Monday, June 21, 2010

Conversation///CTD - Vol. 1

Below, find SA-reader F. Matthew Fredrick's ideas about community re: Issue 2's Convo.

If you'd like to guest spit right here, e-mail us your thoughts -

Keep readin' now.

All Y'all's,
Super Arrow


Dear Super Arrow,

Joe Collins' issues with and "purposeful avoidance" of social networking sites are similar to my own reasons for cutting-back on online social networking. Joe's link to the Cate Kennedy article is pitch-perfect as it realtes to my experience. It's not so much that social networking sites distract me from creative projects (though that is certainly true), but more how social networking sites have this way of keeping me from better developing an inner self. Ratcheting-back my online presence on Facebook for me is less about work per se, and more about providing for myself the kind of solitary and contemplative space I need for creative pursuits. At the same time, I recognize the value of Facebook as a communication and organizational tool. As a musician, I want people to know the what, when and where of my next gig. I want to know the what, when and where of other musicians' next gigs. I still want to share with and learn from my friends, both online and ITRW. It's a subtle and often precarious balancing act.

In Super Arrow #2's CONVERSATION////COMMUNITY piece, Maggie Ginestra said "Let's be brave together." I love this call to collective being ... and to collective action. Ever since I read it a couple of days ago I've been mulling it over in my mind (contemplating it?). Moreover, Maggie's call to "be brave together" fits nicely with her question as to "how, in a social-and-creative community, neutrality should figure into honesty when you talk about each other’s art." In other words, how do we be brave together? How do we commit this brave act of making and sharing ourselves with each other? How do we talk about each other's art honestly as well as supportively?

I am remarkably lucky to be a member of a music ensemble called the Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra (yes, I know ... a Facebook link ...). Most of what we do is compose and perform musical scores to silent films of yore. There are six of us. They are my best friends. Really, they are more like family than friends. Most days, I see and/or talk with at least one of them. We trust and care for each other not unlike how a family trusts and cares for itself.

My ensemble-mates Brien and Matt do most of the composing for R&P MPO. The rest of us pitch-in here and there when we can make it to the composing sessions. The sessions are free-flowing exchanges. Ideas and melodies are conceived, shared, amended, tweaked and often discarded. The goal is to make something that works - that complements and supports the visual narrative of the film without overwhelming it. If an idea doesn't achieve that goal, and after attempting to tweak and amend that idea it still doesn't achieve that goal, then it needs to be discarded. Our goal - our ethic - comes from a certain collective like-mindedness. Our aesthetic sensibilities often are different. The differences in aesthetic sensibility are a very good thing, for what comes from combining and amalgamating these different aesthetic sensibilities is something often fresh and new. It's long and careful work, and intense and thrilling work. One must be brave in order to participate ... not only in presenting that which one conceived, but also (and in some ways more importantly) honestly critiquing those ideas which others have conceived and presented. During these composing sessions, during rehearsals (when things are further tweaked and amended), and finally during performances, we are brave together.

We would not be able do that which we do if our relationships to each other were arms-length. It is through the caring and respect for each other as a kind of family that we trust each other to individually and collectively "be brave." When Maggie asks about "neutrality and honesty" in talking about each other's art and ideas, I think that we as an ensemble often achieve it. I think there are two reasons for this. First, I think that our ensemble's explicit compositional ethic intertwines neutrality with honesty. Our ethic of composing music that "complements and supports" means that all of our ideas must be evaluated with this "neutral first principle" of sorts. Second (and I think more importantly), we all truly care about each other and therefore trust each other in our presentation of our ideas and in our critiques.

Okay, perhaps this sense of caring and trust is easier to pull off in a band where everyone shares a collective goal. A group of artists or writers working individually - perhaps not so easy. For me, having a close-knit and caring group of people to help me develop (be brave) creatively is vital. I have the impression that it's vital to a lot of artists and writers. I don't think that people necessarily have to share some kind of explicit "ethic" to develop this kind of relationship. It seems to me that a lot of close-knit groups of artists (or often artist couples) share a kind of intuitive ethic. This is what I think of when I think of Jaffa Aharonov's idea of a "tiny, cohesive community where everyone feels like they’re on the same page."

A "tiny, cohesive community" is vital to me because it expands contemplative space beyond the limits of myself. I can share creative thoughts and ideas I've been contemplating, and in collective sharing and feedback these thoughts and ideas are further contemplated and shaped into something. I don't think that this space of trust and contemplation can be made through Jaffa's (in the alternative) idea of a "large, loose ... network of creative, productive people." It seems to me that having such a network means that your relationship to everyone is more arms-length. I am not brilliant or creative enough on my own. There comes a time when I need to share my creative ideas with someone or a small group of someones whom I trust. In addition to my inner contemplative self, I need a contemplative space outside of myself. A large group of arms-length relationships won't work for me. I suspect that most people are like me in this way.

I think that there is one further possible problem with a "large, loose network." What one may think of as a group of working collaborators too easily becomes, in Kenneth Koch's words, merely a "social life with friends." That large, loose network is really just a big party.

Ben Spivey asks "why do you write?" I write and perform music because I like to think about it. Probably just as much of a reason is that I have a big ego. I love the attention I receive when I perform. I hunger for praise and accolades. Music satiates this hunger. I don't think that these reasons are necessarily bad. However, going back to Joe's issues and concerns with social networking sites, I think that Facebook poses for me a serious obstacle to making worthwhile art.

I have a big ego. I love attention. I am hungry for praise and accolades, and Facebook to me is junk food. It's very telling to me that, when somebody posts a link or status update on Facebook, that somebody "publishes" it. When somebody performs a musical piece, or exhibits a painting or sculpture, or gets a short story or poem in a journal, that somebody is "publishing" too. But think off all of the steps and thoughtfulness and contemplation that went into that musical piece, painting or piece of literature. Think of the contemplation beyond the self when that somebody shared and sought advice from others. That piece of published art has substance. There is some kind of sharing of a bit of self to it. It's a sharing of real labor and of real time. It is brave because of it. Whether the reasons for "publishing" were at their base egotistical doesn't really matter. The person who reads or hears or views the work has a new experience ... and maybe even thinks or feels something new. Pablo Picasso was an asshole, but we're a richer world for his work, right?

Facebook allows me to "publish" without contemplation, thoughtfulness, labor and discipline. It circumvents the steps and connects my hunger for praise and accolades directly to "publish." The link to the video of the hip band ... the clever turn of phrase in the status update ... the clever comment on someone's link. With each I seek the "thumbs up" and the movement of my link or status into "news." Instant praise and accolades. Nothing, however, really is shared. The praise and accolades are fleeting. My links and comments travel down the ticker. Constantly, then, to come up with new pithiness, new hip band links and new clever turns of phrase. I get competitive, trying to out-clever my friends or out-clever and out-cool the men whom I perceive to fancy the same woman that I do. Like when I eat junk food, I am instantly satiated but thirty minutes later I am hungry again. Like junk food, Facebook for me is addictive.

Facebook brings out my tendency toward performative narcissism, that great enemy of the big-egoed. Facebook is the "social life with friends" and the big party on steroids. In Koch's poem, if one is to have a social life with friends then one must choose between romantic love or creative work. One cannot have all three. Facebook to me goes even further than that. Facebook's social life with friends actually compromises my ability to engage in creative work, and actually compromises my ability to truly love. Facebook compromises my ability, in Erich Fromm's words, to truly care, be truly responsible, be truly respectful, and truly know others. Facebook stokes every narcissistic tendency I have (and I have a lot of them). I don't think that I am the only person who attempts to engage in creative work who experiences Facebook this way.

I still have my Facebook profile. I still post links to my blog, and use it as a kind of email program. I'll post things occasionally of substantive interest to me. I'll even "like" a thing or two. But no more constant performative narcissism. It's not good for me. It's not good for anybody. Better to attempt the often quiet work of contemplation, the often scary prospect of being alone with one's thoughts, the often scary prospect of sharing oneself with another. Better to brave, and to be brave together.

All of that said, please "friend" me and "like" my band. I do have a big ego.