Apparently I once had an idea of periodically sharing posts from earlier eras of my blogs: flashbacks to archival posts written one, five, and ten years earlier. Maybe I could manage this once a month.
1 Year Ago: October 2016
Bring people to Christ / Leave them there: One thing I love to do is track back on cultural Quaker turns of phrase. Here I looked at a phrase sometimes attributed to George Fox and find a largely forgotten British Friend who laid much of the groundwork for Quaker modernism and the uniting of American Quakers.
5 Years: October 2012
The secret decoder ring for Red and Blue states: Discussion of the Quaker cultural influence of American voting patterns based on David Hackett Fischer’s fascinating (if over-argued) book Albion’s Seed.
10 Years: 2007 (October 2007)
An Autumnal Halloween: A family post, pictures of kids posted to the web long before Instagram was founded.
As A List Hollywood stars come out to tell their Harvey Weinstein couch harassment stories, I have to wonder about those who didn’t make it through after saying no — actresses who saw their roles evaporate and left acting. The New York Times headlines profiling Weinstein accusers touts Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie but also introduces us a woman who is now a psychology professor in Colorado. How many better actresses and strong-minded women would there be in Hollywood if so many hadn’t been forced out?
I thought of this after reading by a tweet from the actress Rose Marie. She’s best known as one of the jovial sidekicks from the 1960s’ Dick Van Dyke Show. Not to diminish the rest of the cast, but Rose Marie is one of the best reasons to watch the show, especially during those rare moments she’s allowed to step out from her character’s wisecracking spinster persona and sing or act. On Twitter, she shared that she lost a music contract in the 1950s because she wouldn’t sleep with a producer.
What if a talented actress like Rose Marie had been given more opportunities and wasn’t just known for a supporting part in a old sitcom? What if the psychology professor had gotten the Shakespeare in Love lead? (Imagine a world where Paltrow was only known to 800 or so Facebook friends for too-perfect family pics and memes from dubious health sites.)
Disclaimer: This is a minor point compared with any actresses who weren’t able to deal with the harassment and the industry silencing machinery. I’m sure there are tragedies that are more than just career pivots.
Friends don’t have a particularly good track record with regards to controversy. There’s no reason we need to pretend to be talking historically. We’ve had two major yearly meetings break up in this summer (meet Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting and North Carolina Fellowship of Friends), with at least one more “at bat” for some future long hot summer.
Controversies flare up in many places. Friend Sa’ed Atshan just broke his media silence to talk about the cancelation of his talk at Friends’ Central School in February and the subsequent walk-outs, firings, and litigations. The controversy around Avis Wanda McClinton’s disownment by Upper Dublin Meeting continues to incense large numbers of Philadelphia Friends, with fuel to the fire coming from the role that the Undoing Racism Group does or doesn’t have in the yearly meeting structure. Last year a majority of Friends of color boycotted public events at the FGC Gathering over frustration at the site selection process and the underlying issues extend to other Quaker venues.
The most-commented recent article in Friends Journal is “It Breaks My Heart” by Kate Pruitt from the online June/July issue. Many readers related to her sense of alienation and loss. Two comments that hit me the hardest were:
Not all Friends are found in Quaker Meetings. You’re better off without your meeting.
Gone now is the hope… of finding community among Quakers. To be frank, why bother? There’s plenty of brokenness right where I am.
And I get enough “Why I’m leaving Friends” manifestos in my email inbox every month that I could turn it into a regular Friends Journal column.
It seems to me that are a number of underlying issues that tie these controversies together. What do we do when a group of Friends starts acting in a manner that seems contrary to our understanding of Quaker testimonies and practices? How do we balance love and judgement when conflict arises among us? When do we break out of Quaker niceness? Maybe even more challenging, how do we maintain our integrity and accountability when controversy breaks us into camps willing to engage in exaggeration? And just what do we say when the outside public only gets half the story or thinks that one side is speaking for all Friends?
So this is a plug for submissions for December's Friends Journal. The theme is “Conflict and Controversy" and the submission deadline is September 9. We’re not looking for blow-by-blow accounts of being mistreated, and we’re not terribly interested (this time) in manifestos about Quaker cultural norms. I'm less interested in specific issues than I am the meta of discernment: How do individuals or small groups of Friends move forward in the heat of controversy. What do we do when the easy solutions have failed? How do we decide when it's time to break out of Quaker niceness to lay down some truth—or time to kick the dust off your sandals and move along?
When we came here in fifteen or so years ago, Nancy Forrester’s Secret Garden was a magical oasis tucked in the middle of a block in Key West, a small forest said to be the last undeveloped acre in the city’s Old Town neighborhood. Full of winding paths and trees it was the rarest of spaces: loved, carefully tended, and shared with the public as a gift of beauty. But even then it felt besieged. In 2012 taxes and expenses became too much and Nancy sold off parcels to developers. From an article in Key News:
The tucked-away entrance to Nancy Forrester’s Secret Garden off Free School Lane in the 500 block of Simonton Street will be closed to the public after today, as finances and property taxes have forced Forrester to sell the land parcels that have housed an artist’s cottage and gallery, parrots, orchids, rare palms, meandering pathways and a meditative garden for more than four decades.
These days the garden has been reduced to a small backyard on Elizabeth Street which Nancy uses as a rescue parrot refuge. In the mornings she gives educational lectures on the birds, full of facts about their brilliant behavior, the destruction of their native habitats, and gentle lectures about how we can all protect native parrot habitats by living more lightly on the land (hint: no red palm oil or beef). From behind the fence came the sounds of a swimming pool being installed in the cutdown middle of the former garden. Nancy has life tenancy on the ill-repaired house where she lives with the parrots.
I don’t know the details of the real estate transactions or Forrester’s finances but I find it incredible that Key West couldn’t rally around one of its living treasures. I’m glad that Nancy remains along with her parrots and I’m grateful my kids got a chance to meet her.
Another family vacation is coming up, which for me means thinking once more about the pre-nostalgia of family photos. While blog posts are ostensibly for visitors, the audience I care more about is actually future me.
Just before a 2013 trip, I wrote “Nostalgia Comes Early,” a post about memories and why I go to the trouble to share these posts — as much with my future self as with readers (I continued this thought later with Recovering the Past Through Photos).
Every successive family trip creates a magnitude more data than the one preceding it. I have exactly 10 photos from the first time I visited Walt Disney World, with my then-fiancée in 2001. I have only fuzzy memories of the trip. A year or so later I returned back to Florida (Key West this time) for a honeymoon with her, a trip that has zero photos. I remember maybe a half dozen things we did but few locales visited.
Contrast this with a 2013 Disney World trip, for which we made a whole blog, A Special WDW Family. The focus was traveling Disney with autistic kids. There’s a lot of information in there. We wrote about meals and rides, small victories, and child meltdowns. The bandwidth of memories isn’t just in the number of jpeg files but in the distinct memories I have of the events of that week-plus.
We took many hundreds of photos over our most recent family vacation in December 2015, only a small fraction of which went online. In addition, I have Google Location data for the trip and Foursquare checkins logged in Evernote. I know how many steps I took each day. I know whether I had a good sleep. We didn’t make a public blog but we have a long annotate log of each restaurant and stop, with annotation tips to remind our future selves about how we could do things better in the future. The metadata is in itself not so important, but it’s useful to be able to drop into a day and remember what we did and see the smiles (and tiredness) on faces each day.
An interesting profile of a niche community affected by the shift of attention from community-led sites to Facebook, “How Facebook – the Wal-Mart of the internet – dismantled online subcultures.”
Over time, these challenges to the BME community became increasingly problematic. Members deleted accounts or stopped posting. By 2015, the main community forum – which used to have hundreds of posts a day – went without a single comment for over six months.
Having predicted many of the web’s functions and features, BME failed to anticipate its own demise.
It’s definitely something I’ve seen in my niche world of Quakers. I started QuakerQuaker as an independent site in part because I didn’t want Google and Facebook and Beliefnet to determine who we are. There’s the obvious problems—Beliefnet hiring a programmer to make a “What Religion Are You?” test based on a few books picked up the library one afternoon.
But there’s also more subtle problems. On Facebook anyone can start or join a group and start talking authoritatively about Quakers without actually being an active community member. I can think of a number of online characters who had never even visiting a Friends meeting or church.
Our tradition built up ways of defining our spokespeople though the practices of recorded ministers and elders, and of clarifying shared beliefs though documents like Faith and Practice. I’ll be the first to argue that this process has produced mixed results. But if it is to be adapted or reformed, I’d like the work to be done by us in a thoughtful, inclusive manner. Instead, the form of our discussions are now invisibly imposed by an outside algorithm that is optimized for obsessive engagement and advertising delivery. Facebook process is not Quaker process, yet it is largely what we use when we talk about Quakers outside of Sunday morning.
I think Facebook has helped alternative communities form. I’m grateful for the pop-up communities of interest I’m part of. And there are sites with more user generated content like Wikipedia and Reddit that hold an interesting middle-ground and where information is generally more accurate. But there’s still a critical role for self-organized independent publications, a niche that I think is continuing to be overshadowed in our current attention ecosystem.