Stories worth considering, thoughts, Uncategorized

Words Matter (In Memory)


September 16, 2009 is the 10 year anniversary of my father’s death.  He did not live to see the 21st century; he did not know that the twin towers would be attacked and that they would fall.  He would not have necessarily welcomed the digital age.  I guess there are many things that each of us will never know.

If you asked my father what he did, he liked to say that he taught college. He was not a professor, he was, Don, a teacher.  Not always perfect, but always learning, always embracing his path and encouraging me to skip along mine.  I think no more so than, with fearlessness and pure heart, he faced his own death. “Are you afraid,” I asked.  “No,” he said, “just curious.”

I was with him 2 hours before he actually died.  They tell you to say goodbye, to say that it’s okay to die and that you’ll be okay when they pass.  All these things to make it easier for the person to “let go.”  Cancer, being the aggressive bastard that it is, wasn’t likely going to be influenced by what I said or didn’t say, but I said everything anyway.

Fourteen months earlier, I had arrived at his hospital bed.  “Have I given you enough?” he asked.

Many words have been written and spoken about my father.  At the funeral, students I didn’t know approached me: “You were the apple of his eye,” they said.  And six months later, students running the ticket booth at the local movie theater looked at me strangely, “We know who you are, and we loved your father.”

There was one piece (Craig Carlson Eulogy) written about him that I have always especially loved. Penned by Craig Carlson, poet, teacher and long-time colleague of my father’s, the essay had story, memory, surprise, reveal.  It was an excavation of history, with them sitting in the backyard of the old house with the bees.  As with any good story, if perfectly captures who my father was and it revealed extra words and thoughts he had, which, like the fragments of ancient pottery, are precious beyond explanation.

A few years later Craig drowned, and there was a story told about it.  He and his teenage son had been swimming, maybe out a little too far and then the current had taken them out further.  They knew they were in trouble.  Craig was tired, and told his son to swim back without him.  His son didn’t want to leave him.  “Get help,” said Craig.  And so the son swam back and was saved.

Not, save yourself.  Not, just go on without me.  Get help.  A task.  A reason to survive. A charge to save the life of someone else. It’s Muhammad Ali winning Rumble in the Jungle–fighting not just for himself but for his community.  Something greater than oneself.

Get help.

For 10 years I have missed my father, but I have cherished the legacy he left behind and I am deeply grateful to Craig, a poet to the end, for his words.


Check out my father’s book: Teaching with your Mouth Shut.

Also, his as of yet unpublished, Out of the cave; steps to essay writing.


What does it mean to be in a community, now.

As I think about a way to communicate to future users, in the most specific and exciting way, what really is, I’ve started to consider what it means to be part of a community. Every site has a “community” now, where you can “connect” to fellow site surfers. But community, as it rapidly diminishes from real life, means people who live/work/play together. People who share similar values and who look out for each. Communities police the community, and bad behavior is usually caught and addressed. People in communities are held accountable for their actions by other members. Communities protect their own, and in doing so the community at large. They seek, like everything in nature, to survive and that means making sure that people act in a way that doesn’t destroy the trust and foundation upon which the community is built.

Here’s a version (see the movie Moonstruck for visual representation). If cousin Joe stands up neighbor Sally for their date, everyone at church next Sunday is going to be talking about it, and cousin Joe is going to hear about it later, if not from Sally’s uncle Chuck, then from the butcher. Joe knows when he asks Sally out, he’s going to have to show up or be held accountable. This knowledge extends to his actions on the date to some extent as well. The community is looking out for Sally, and in a way, for Joe, and ultimately the community is protecting and encouraging the arrival of little Joe’s and Sally’s and thereby the propagation of the entire community.

Now consider this version.

Joe searches from a bank of ten thousand women (where many pictures are not entirely representative). Joe likes Sally’s picture and reads her profile. Joe pokes/nudges/winks at Sally. Sally reads Joe’s profile. She pokes/nudges/winks back. Joe contacts her. They chat online, or send a few emails. They talk words via voice or text by cell phone. They plan to meet a week later. By that time, Joe has met June, had cybersex with her and forgotten all about his date with Sally. He doesn’t show, or call, or email, or respond in any way. After one or two attempts, Sally moves on. For Joe the incident is so long forgotten, it is likely Sally will never cross his mind in any way ever again. It is never mentioned to him by anyone. He doesn’t even have to delete her profile from his list because it drops so far to the bottom it is never seen again.

So, how good an online dating “community” are we working with here? Does that even fit the definition of a community?

How do we fashion a community online that adheres to what we mean when we say (or used to say) community? When, we, at Fluther say community, we mean, a group of people who are serving the interests, in action and behavior of the group and in doing so, their own individual interests as well.

I am seeking to represent this kind of old-fashioned community thriving online in a word, and I’m not sure that “community” will work. And I believe the word matters.