Susanna J. Sturgis   Martha's Vineyard writer and editor
writer editor born-again horse girl

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The Drive to Connect

August 25, 2005

This is sort of a postscript to yesterday's blog, so maybe you want to read that one first if you haven't already. Or maybe yesterday's was all prologue and you can safely skip that because this is the real point. Maybe. I'm a big fan of editing, revising, and rewriting, mainly because I'm so bloody good at them and because the more I revise, the longer I can postpone the truly dreadful task of starting a first draft. My #1 blog rule is No Revising. Correcting typos and grammatical gaffes is OK because if I don't, they will drive me crazy. Any heavier editing is like cheating at FreeCell.

(Speaking of which, I blew a 36-game streak yesterday and the galling thing is that when I replayed the streak-breaker I won handily. When my century streak ended at 105, I replayed the spoiler three times and still couldn't win. The game number was 2000-something, maybe 20009? If a five-digit number starting with 2 and several zeroes comes up again, I will know I am doomed.)

Anyway, yesterday, while I was writing about threads that spin forward in an endless straight line and never loop around or double back so contributors can have conversations with each other (or, come to think of it, with themselves) -- I think that was what I was writing about -- three pieces of writing were nudging for my attention: Bill McKibben's The Age of Missing Information and two songs by James Keelaghan, "Message to the Future" and "Captain Torres." I blew them off, with the inevitable result that they were carousing in my head as I fell asleep last night. Mucking out at the barn this morning, I got the connection. I know I got it because they stopped bugging me, or they promised to stop bugging me as soon as I finish this blog.

In Keelaghan's "Message to the Future" (© 1998 Tranquilla Music) a factory worker "making furniture for the common man" writes on a headboard "I'll love you till my dying day." A tin basher (sheet-metal worker) writes on the ductwork of a new building "For you I'd give it all away." Then comes a chorus/bridge:

I left a message to the future
Call it futile call it vain
Call it trying to cheat the hangman
Call it ego call it fame
I left a message to the future
Maybe they'll find it and maybe not
The past is past and the past is present
Tomorrow, well it's all we've got

"Captain Torres" (© 1998 Tranquilla Music) is about the sinking of the freighter of that name in the Cabot Strait in December 1989. Seas were heavy, winds were gale-force; the ship was foundering and air rescue was impossible. Each crew member could make one call home to say goodbye. At this point in the narrative the point of view shifts from the dying ship to one of the wives at home:

Do I count myself lucky
I was home the phone was ringing
What of others' wives who missed it
Came home to red lights blinking

Once that image lodges in your mind, it never lets go.

So, a message to the future that will probably never be read, and a message from the past whose sender no longer lives. What they share, I think, is what Adrienne Rich called "the drive to connect," to reach across chasms of culture and language and time and reach another human being.

In The Age of Missing Information, Bill McKibben juxtaposes the entire output of all the TV and cable stations in Fairfax County, Virginia, over a 24-hour period with (as I recall) a weekend hiking trip. Another image that won't let go: I think of the defense mechanisms we have to throw up to filter the 24/7 bombardment by facts, figures, suppositions, lies, sitcoms and dramas about people we'll never have to interact with, and then I think of going into the woods with those self-defense filters in place. There's nothing to see! nothing to hear! Boring! Where's the TV!

That's what I'm missing in so much of that online verbiage. At every turn we're encouraged to write a review! comment on a review! comment on a comment! make a list! comment on a list! But where's it all go? Who's listening? Maybe someone's listening, but this linear and forward-branching discourse makes it hard for a listener to make herself heard. When the audience is silent, hypothetical, and possibly nonexistent, where's the drive to connect? What's at stake? Why write? There's more to communication than jumping up and down and making loud (or virtual) noises. How do you know you've gotten through if there's no one on the receiving end?

"Message to the Future" and "Captain Torres" are both on James Keelaghan's Road (1999, Jericho Beach Music/High Tone Records). More about the man and his music at www.keelaghan.com.

 

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