Seduction and the Word

It has been difficult for me in discussions of the election not to mention Hunter S. Thompson or Joe McGinniss’ “Selling of the President, 1968.” To my mind both presage today’s mockery.  Both are too obvious. For some reason tonight, I started thinking about John Updike’s “A Month of Sundays.”

“A Month of Sundays” is a delightfully bad story of a fallen minister assigned for a month to desert retreat where such go for healing. Healing is found in a prohibition of sermonizing or discussing the Bible, but instead miscreant clerics are to play poker, golf, drink, and smoke. Throughout this month he journals daily his thoughts and recollections of his fall from grace. These are also poorly disguised sermons.

The daily writings are written in the first person and addressed to Ms. Phrynne, the stern, foreboding woman in charge, always hinted at, never seen. But as the passage below suggests, our protagonist is clearly not above misinterpreting the text to suit his own desires. Further, each journal entry is part  of act of seduction, aimed at the one woman present.

But who that has eyes to see cannot so lust? Was not the First Divine Commandment received by human ears, “Be fruitful, and multiply”? Adultery is not a choice to be avoided; it is a circumstance to be embraced. Thus I construe these texts.

And so I started thinking about seduction, and politics, and the act of writing. Election politics are all about seduction. Writing can clearly be an act of seduction. Whether it is persuasive writing or attempts at romance (love letters). But it also occurs to me that raw, gut-wrenchingly honest (or at least appearing to be honest) writing,  can be seductive. Such writing can be used to draw the reader into the author’s world, especially if the reader is even only mildly empathic.

This line of thought got to me to thinking about the responsibility of writing. The last year in particular has provided innumerable examples of irresponsible writing. Trash-writing on blogs, fake news sites, and real news sites, citing fake data or fake stories from other sites. All in the name of generating content or persuading  you to a point of view not your own. Or persuading you to hold onto your point of view without basing it in real fact. Really though, it is simply the provision of information that is at best only partially true but designed to stir certain feelings in you while removing your sense of agency.

I know there is a word for this. I learned it from working with an individual many years ago who was going through sex offender therapy as preventative measure.

The word is grooming.

And it pretty well describes how I feel about about the last 18 months.


I’ve Been Here Before

A lot of time for reflection these days of driving. As I have thought about this election, my memories have drifted back to 1991 and the listserv In fact, I talked with @GoogleGuacomole about this experience recently in relation to her mapping of digital visitors and residents.

Way back in 1991, Marist College set up three listservs, one for each of the presidential candidates – Bush, Clinton, and Perot. I joined all three. I was in my first year of working at Saint Louis University and relishing the day-long internet access. I had been online a couple of years at this point through Compuserve, Prodigy, and AOL, but I had not yet acquired a dedicated phone line for dial-up (which I did in late 1991 because I learned I could dial-in into SLU). The lists defaulted to reply-all and since this was before spam and the wide use of email, conversations took place every day.

The Bush and Perot lists were essentially flamewarzones.  You trod carefully there.Lots of infighting with relatively few reasoned discussions as I recall. Clinton-L (or C@M as it became known) was different. We had our fights and flamewars, generally from people that hadn’t gelled into the community that developed. Later, that community then spun-off as a community to a new listserv at Penn State, QC-L (Quiet Communication) as a pet of our list mentor, Gerry M. Phillips, a retired professor of Rhetoric. Phillips was in poor health and generally homebound, spending much his days and nights online. Some of that history is documented here in the book Electronic Tribes: The Virtual Worlds of Geeks, Gamers, Shamans, and Scammers by Tyrone L. Adams, Stephen A. Smith. (I had forgotten, or simply did not know, that this chapter referred to me as one of the resident storytellers a term I don’t associate with myself.)

Members were predominantly academics. One member was a DMV employee in Keizer, OR who was also mayor, and lost his job for spending too much time online – the town we later moved to from St Louis. Another member was one of the two sons of the Rosenbergs. He once called me a Nazi during the great debates of Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan incident, a mere four years into Godwin’s Law. SFC Kiss was an active duty soldier who was definitely one of the resident conservatives. He and I once debated gun control for two weeks, demonstrating to the group that such things could be done with respect and good-nature. Flamewars were not necessary. But members did complain about the volume of the topic. There’s always someone whining somewhere, about something.

Meetups became common between members. Dan worked across town at Washington University and we became fast friends once we met. We also each made efforts to meet others as we or they traveled across country. At one point, in the summer of 1994, we decided to have a party. Since Gerry was placebound, we all went to Happy Valley, PA.  Dan and I road-tripped from St. Louis, picking up Lena in Greencastle IN, and Dr. Bubbles (Melanie) and her 12-string guitar in Columbus. We also stopped in Johnstown to pick up another member and her daughter.

Hugs, fun, lots of conversation, and hours spent sitting around a Mac while Dr. Bubbles (she was a Phd Chemist from New Orleans)  and Gerry S. played guitar while sang along to the lyrics on the screen.

The debriefing after the gathering had to be curtailed a bit. It was clear that some of the stories made the non-attendees jealous. Especially each of the accounts for those of us in Dan’s custom van. WE had stories. Most of which got told.

Ultimately I left the group after moving to Oregon. I don’t really recall why. I think the tenor of the group had changed too much. More though, I had too many others going on. New job. Wife in the hospital near death for a couple of weeks. Far too many problems raising special needs children. Whatever it was, the need for that community disappeared.

The listserv was just a replacement for Usenet and BBS. Just as various discussion forum platforms,  MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and others have all evolved to replace things or just add add dimensions. We still use listservs, we just generally discourage reply-all. (Despite the fact that accidental reply-alls can be delightful to read when they aren’t your mistakes.) I still participate in a number of discussion forums. Nothing really useful goes away. And despite the bells and whistles it all feels the same. Just the people are different, but that is not really true at all. It’s just a matter of who self-selects where they hang out and what roles they play.



Spare Parts

I can be a restless listener. This drives my wife nuts as I will use the hand controls on the steering wheel to skip through channels or the USB drives full of music. I can thumb that button for miles and upon miles to find something to sing. In the cause of peace, before we started listening to an audiobook, I put Sirius on the Springsteen channel and left it there.  this happily included a four-hour concert from New Year’s Eve 1980.

In my second attempt in college at  completing a BA, I was a big Bruce fan. The 10 year retrospective album had been released and I listened to it a lot during studio time.  Having done my teenage years in on Main Street USA (both Route 66 and Main Street in Joplin)  in the late 70s, cars, unfulfilled love, and conflict on search of a cause was all  familiar.

In my last year of college, I hada few small exhibits of my work in coffee shops and cafes. While leaving the more risque examples of my work in the studio (I was told that some parents shielded the eyes of their children as they walked past my senior exhibit) one piece in particular drove comments.  It was called Spare Parts and consisted of a woman’s torso (clothed)  and a collection of automotive parts.

I think the offensive bit might have been the orifice and flange of a set of bright red header pipes. Regardless, I saw nothing bothersome. It was Art. It  was not really anything like the song:

Bobby said he’d pull out Bobby stayed in
Janey had a baby it wasn’t any sin
They were set to marry on a summer day
Bobby got scared and he ran away
Jane moved in with her ma out on Shawnee Lake
She sighed Ma sometimes my whole life feels like one big mistake
She settled in in a back room time passed on
Later that winter a son came along

Spare parts
And broken hearts
Keep the world turnin’ around

–Bruce Springsteen, “Spare Parts”

Funny thing is, it is not even one of those songs I may much attention to. The lyrics are unimpressive and the vocals seem a bit muddy if I am not actively listening. I think I have even had a tendency to forget this song. The painting I don’t forget, although it is long gone. I have a color slide of it somewhere.

What really remains is that I offended somebody, somewhere in Joplin.

It was not the first time. It certainly was not the last.

Just another story that has been on my mind this trip. Lots of spare parts of memories, detritus of a living somewhat unfiltered.

Roadtrip Songs

I’ve done a surprising number of trips on I-95 between Richmond and Orlando (or points shorter). Fewer trips north of DC. Lots between Richmond and DC. Sometimes the music blends together and I start mixing songs up. (And recently I’ve learned if stay in the bass range while I sing instead of tenor, I don’t cough nearly as much.)

He thought he was the King of America
Where they pour Coca Cola just like vintage wine
Now I try hard not to become hysterical
But I’m not sure if I am laughing or crying
I wish that I could push a button
And talk in the past and not the present tense
And watch this hurtin’ feeling disappear
Like it was common sense
It was a fine idea at the time
Now it’s a brilliant mistake.

I hold you in my arms
As the band plays
What are those words whispered baby
Just as you turn away
I saw you last night
Out on the edge of town
I wanna read your mind
To know just what I’ve got in this new thing I’ve found
So tell me what I see
When I look in your eyes
Is that you baby
Or just a brilliant disguise?

Deep in my soul I’ve been so lonely
All of my hopes fading away
I’ve longed for love like everyone else does
I know I’ll keep searching even after today
So there it is girl, I’ve said it all now
And here we are babe, what do you say?
We’ve got tonight, who needs tomorrow?
We’ve got tonight babe
Why don’t you stay?

Sometimes I feel a little mad
But don’t you know that no one alive can always be an angel
When things go wrong I feel real bad.
I’m just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood
It seems like yesterday
But it was long ago
Janey was lovely she was the queen of my nights
There in the darkness with the radio playing low, and
And the secrets that we shared
The mountains that we moved
Caught like a wildfire out of control
‘Til there was nothing left to burn and nothing left to prove
And I remember what she said to me
How she swore that it never would end
I remember how she held me oh-so-tight
Wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then
You can’t run away forever,
But there’s nothing wrong with getting a good head start
You want to shut out the night
You want to shut down the sun
You want to shut away the pieces of a broken heart
Think of how we’d lay down together
We’d be listening to the radio so loud and so strong
Every golden nugget coming like a gift of the gods
Someone must have blessed us when he gave us those songs
There’s always something magic
There’s always something new
And when you really really need it the most
That’s when rock and roll dreams come through
The beat is yours forever
The beat is always true
And when you really really need it the most
That’s when rock and roll dreams come through…for you…
I love the road and where it takes me, especially with a soundtrack.