There are increasing murmurs about the internet being bad for you, Facebook and Twitter isolating people from reality, but I don’t buy it. Here’s why.
You may remember last month Sue and I got stranded in Buffalo for a day and I wrote a blog post about the experience to avoid having to think more seriously about suicide. Part of that was walking into a bookstore and buying what’s called a “broadside,” which is basically an eight dollar printed version of a poem, by the Ohio poet Russell Vidrick. Here’s what I wrote about it at the time:
After lunch, we drove past a store called Rust Belt Books, and I stopped the car hoping I might find something distracting inside. A woman wearing two sweaters and some fingerless gloves was behind the counter, playing Tom Waits songs on the stereo, slinging eight-dollar books of Beat Poetry. I kept looking until I found a hand-printed poem by Ohio poet Russel (sic) Vidrick called “Everything Used To Mean Something.” It had a picture of Van Gogh’s chair on the cover, only the chair was on fire, and it seemed to fit perfectly in the moment. Much better than Jack Kerouac’s Satori In Paris, this was my Satori in Buffalo. A Satori, Kerouac wrote, meant a God-given kick-in-the-face in Japanese. And these are the first nine lines:
Used to mean something
Now it means mostly nothing.
All is lost. Faith lost.
The stage lost.
That falls is mine.
Humanity is a filthy beast burning
On an altar in my kitchen.
Except the word “altar” was misspelled.
Shortly after that, I got an email from Vidrick’s wife, Charlotte Mann.
I came across your blog after my husband, Russell Vidrick, told me he’d googled his name out of idle curiousity and found your blog.
He’s a little mortified about the misspelling of the word altar. Joseph “JS” Makkos, who made the beautiful broadside of Russ’ poem that you purchased apparently didn’t correct Russ’ spelling, or, Joseph couldn’t read his writing, understandable as it’s rather illegible.
Just wanted to thank you for buying the poem and then writing about it. Are you by chance in New Orleans? I ask because Russ is going to NOLA next week to visit the city (it’ll be his first time), to go to the track, smoke some cigars, eat some delicious food, drink some good coffee and to read some poetry. I’ll be staying home in Cleveland, where we live.
If you’re actually in NOLA & interested in attending the reading at which he’ll be a feature please let me know and I’ll find out where it is & tell you.
Vidrick’s reading took place this afternoon at the Maple Leaf Bar on Oak Street, here in New Orleans. I showed up late, thinking a bunch of poets would no way be punctual, especially not in this town, but they were all just leaving as I arrived. Vidrick’s publisher Joseph Makkos recognized the broadside in my hand, and yelled at me from a departing station wagon, “hey, nice broadside!”
We had a good little conversation through the window, during which I apologized for being late, and Vidrick signed the poem. He also was kind enough to give me a signed copy of his wife’s book, “Hotel Poem,” containing photographs of Cleveland poets, and a copy of his newest book, “Love Poems of the New World Order.”
Here are a couple of my favorites:
The edge is always there
like the 6th story window
you tried to jump out of
at the psychiatric institution
or the three days you spent
strapped to a bed
after your first psychotic break
but even the hog is allowed
to enjoy the mud
before the slaughter
and the world is full of some fine mud holes
like a streetlamp in Oaxaca
or the glass ceiling
of a canal boat in Amsterdam
in fact, forget about the edge
the world may end in mad houses and Thorazine
you’re sleeping with your wife
on a king-sized bed
And of course, the opener:
Everyday I drive past the same shit
I expect to see the same buildings
When I lay on my bed with the shade closed
I imagine infinite worlds
There’s no way you could accuse Vidrick of being an optimist, but he’s a rust-belt romantic, alright. Someone prepared to look Cleveland in the face and survive it, still looking for beauty. A city in which the river once caught fire.
The book of poems comes with a CD of him reading them, so I put it on when I got home and contemplated this guy’s life, and how we have now shared a few moments of experience thanks to the internet. The last poem:
We bought our wedding rings from a quiet man
in Urfa the birthplace of Abraham
I’d like to tell you that something
like an Old Testament miracle took place
on our travels throughout Mesopotamya
I am a simple man
A kid who grew up in the projects
But I am fascinated by history and the stories of the Bible
perhaps my poems have become a little less mystical
I am finally living the mystery
I do understand the skepticism about social networking. When you know the world is watching, it’s harder to write poetry and easier, instead, to take an inoffensive picture of your cat. Or follow kitty on Twitter. But I can think of several examples over the last five years of forming enriching connections with other people online.
I’m talking about the enjoyment of Karen Gadbois’ Tour of Beauty blog, for example, which she later admitted was an idea spawned in an effort to distract from a cancer scare. Or the way people respond to the investigative work I do at The Lens, an investigative news website here in New Orleans. They’re gracious, and they’re generous with their insights and efforts to help me find out more.
I chat occasionally with Eddie Argos, the lead singer of my favorite band Art Brut, on Twitter. Okay, so that’s borderline meaningless to most of you, but to an Art Brut fan, it means a lot.
My friend just sent me a link to Jack Churchill’s biography on G-chat. What an absolute nutty inspiration he was: “becoming the only known British soldier to have felled an enemy with a longbow in the course of the war.”
There’s a time for saying “no,” to experience, of course. But when you’re really on the internet, the possibilities of saying “yes” are manifold. It’s like doing improv with the world as your potential stage.
There was the time in Portland when 100 people came out and cleaned up a load of sidewalk tape put down by the bridge and tunnel crowd for the Rose Festival Parade. People predicted we’d be beaten up and arrested, but afterward it was described by one local media critic as “the most brilliant street theater of the decade.” Kids of eight joined old age pensioners to do something hilarious and, yes, brave.
The internet can be tragic and on occasion has made me want to take a pair of pliers to my own back teeth. But I’ve never felt isolated from reality by it. If anything, reality has been augmented, and like Vidrick, “I am finally living the mystery.”
Sue and I may even take a trip to Cleveland, soon, and check out that river.