I hope this letter finds you well, though I realize the individuals who form our collective “you” are each in such completely different and independent places, going through our own unique sets of trials, indifferences, and victories, that such a hope is more of a wish, and naive at best; but it is truly my hope, nonetheless.
My heart is more often than not heavy by the way we treat us. I desire so much more than what we have become accustomed to offering one another. It seems we routinely choose to see and believe the worst in each other, discriminatorily, and unfairly, withholding the benefit of the doubt; however, I might be offering the benefit of the doubt by insinuating that we have a choice in the matter, and that it has not merely become a subconscious habit, or custom, or a way of life.
Please do not believe for a second that I do not notice the good around me, the genuine offerings of the truest altruism, for those breaths of fresh air are what keeps us alive as one collective body; they are what keep us from completely falling apart. But in order for us to move to a more healthy place, we need to scrutinize the sickness we have become infected with, the negative ways we treat us. Will you help me in this investigation?
I have three questions for you, or us rather:
1) Do you think we are so quick to see and believe the worst in each other out of self-preservation, and maybe for the gift of a pleasant surprise when someone acts in opposition to our negative thoughts of them?
2) Why do we so desperately wish for the benefit of the doubt from others, but are so biased in our willingness to extend it?
3) How do you suggest we go about mending this state of affairs?
I would greatly appreciate any insight you might have in this matter. Please tell me. I will patiently wait for your response; yes, plural “your”. Take care of yourself, and us.
I hope this letter finds you much more than well, welling over even. We have almost made it through the cold and dreaded Winter. Almost, that is. Spring is pushing its way in, truly battling to stay, as it seems Winter is trying to prove its final point for the season; snow is in the forecast today.
But I can’t be bothered by Winter’s need for attention. No matter what it is trying, I am on a much needed hiatus: Spring Break. A neighbor kid is over playing mini-basketball in my living room, Miles Davis is playing in my speakers, and I have no pressing matters, or urgent work, or places to be right now but right here, doing absolutely nothing. Truly sublime.
What is happening in your world?
I couldn’t help but notice, and be moved by, your tweet the other day.
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I hope this letter finds you well and that you are enjoying your recent arrival into fatherhood. It suits you. Can you think of anything more spectacular than holding a tiny little being who is one-half you and one-half of the person you love most in the world? I can only imagine, truly. Give that sweet little baby a big squeeze and kiss on the cheek from me.
I have enjoyed seeing the pictures you have posted so far, and look forward to seeing others, and watching him grow from afar.
Do you remember the joke-yet-real-occurance from our childhood, where a certain family would invite another certain tepid family or person over to watch a slideshow of pictures from their vacation? Sitcoms from my childhood loved that joke, and I most definitely sat in on a couple of the real-life versions.
The pictures were literally projected onto the wall, or a projector screen; real dust danced around in the beam of light that glowed from the humming projector to its destination.
In this Facebook Age we live in, does that even happen anymore? Further still, do people even have actual, physical photo albums, with actual, physical photographs in them, or is everything digital now? I know, for sure, that avoiding someone’s vacation slideshow or photo album is much easier now: “hide from newsfeed,” or better yet “unfriend,” or even better yet “BLOCK.”
Lately, I have been thinking a great deal about sharing. These days, with all of our technological advancements, and the myriad of electronic devices we have at our fingertips, and the ever-growing number of social networks that we are constantly on, I think we “share” things with each other way more than ever before, and yet actually share with each other much, much less than days gone by. I am of the opinion that social networks create a sense of pseudo-community, pseudo-sharing, but hinder our sharing with people we are actually, physically with; texting is also a major culprit.
Don’t get me wrong. I am thankful for these advancements, in the way that they help me keep in contact with those who I might not normally have contact with. I myself am on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, email, several different blogs, and even Myspace, though it has moved into a place of irrelevancy. I am on, at least a couple of, these platforms daily, and I cannot actually remember a day that has passed in which I have not texted with at least one person; side note, texting has become such a significant part of our lives that the word “text” has even been added to our dictionary as a verb; it was only a noun a mere few years ago.
I myself provide a daily deluge of posts, on various different social networks; considerably more than many people I know, at that. So, please do not think I am excluding myself from these grievances. My concerns might possibly even come out of my own guilt and self awareness.
But how often do we see two people sitting across from each other at a restaurant, not sharing even as much as a glance at one-another, or a second, much less a word, and yet they’re plunked across the table from one another, obsessively staring down at their cellphones, communicating with a person, or even multiple people, who are not even in the room or in that moment with them? And then ironically, I imagine them later that day, or week, or month, spending time with the person, or multiple people, they were so preoccupied with during dinner that they neglected their significant other, not really spending time with them either, because they are so busy on their phones communicating with their significant other. What a vicious cycle of “sharing” and neglect.
There was a time, not all that long ago, when we were forced to truly be with the person we were with, un-contactable by, and unable to contact, others for the most part. Cellphones did not exist. We made plans in advance. The only interruptions at dinner were the waiters, or a friend who happened to be in the same restaurant and passed by our table, or thick, awkward tension from a fight, or general boredom with a relationship. But at least those variables actually physically existed in that moment.
We did not have a cellphone to text and tell our absent-from-the-moment friend, “I’m eating dinner with so-and-so. Lol.”
Or Facebook to update a status about how good or bad the service in that restaurant is, and maybe even “check-in”.
Or Tumblr to look through pictures of “Cats in Space”, instead of looking at the person we are with.
Or Twitter to randomly share our political beliefs while the person we are with rambles on about something we are not interested in.
Or Instagram to take a picture, documenting what the food we are eating actually looks like.
Or a blog to get on because we are so perplexed with how we don’t share time with people we are with, and it becomes so urgent in our minds that we decide to neglect the person we are with to share with everyone how sharing with everyone can be so toxic.
It seems we have fallen into a pattern of constantly “sharing” with people we are not with, simultaneously neglecting those who we are in our actual, physical company.
The other day I saw a father post something on Facebook and it stuck with me, set up camp, and has refused to leave my mind. It was a really simple post. Apparently, he was in the middle of playing a board game with his five-year-old daughter and stopped to tell everyone what they were doing; notabout to play a game, or finished playing, but declaratively in the middle of a game. I tried to envision what his daughter was doing while he was looking down at his phone, preoccupied with telling everyone what he was doing.
Was she just sitting there staring at him?
Was it her turn? And if so, was she even aware that he was paying her no mind in that moment?
Was it his turn, and she was just sitting and waiting for him to put down his phone and take his turn?
Was she nagging him to take his turn, “DADDYYYYYYY! It’s YOUR turn!”
I don’t know the answer to any of these questions. Alas, for all I know, she had excused herself for a moment to use the bathroom or get snacks. And again, who am I, the cyber-sharing king, to judge what was going on in a moment that I was completely absent from. But wait, I was included in those who the father chose to share that moment with, so according to this new technological age we live in, was I there? No, not really. But yes. Yes, I was. But no.
In all my pondering, I’ve realized that real sharing, in general, is a captivating concept, and is an integral one for true community to exist. And ways of sharing can be varied by the type, quality, and selection of who-to-share-with, amongst other things I’m sure.
We can share money, material things, emotions, touch, conversation, time, energy, love, and also even the elements that are the antithesis of these things.
We can share more than we have, be selfish with how much we are willing to share, share the best of what we have, or share with others less than what we are willing to take from them.
We can share with only one other special person, a close group of friends and family, the broader community, strangers, or even everyone we come in contact with.
But whatever the type, quality, or degree of what we are sharing, with whoever we are sharing it with, when we sincerely share with one-another, we are acknowledging the essence of Ubuntu: “I am what I am because of who we all are,” because we would not be who we are if others had not shared themselves with us.
My hope for us, and when I say “us” I mean humanity as a whole, is that we can get back to true sharing…
Dinner conversations that are uninterrupted by cellphone calls.
Intimate embraces that are undisturbed by re-situating to check a text.
Continuous attention whilst playing with our kids, with no unnecessary breaks to tell the world we are spending time with our kids.
Good, quality, un-intruded time with the person in our immediate, actual, physical company.
Am I being unrealistic? Has sharing just taken another form, and I am being an old grump? Is it ok that we ignore someone we are with in order to communicate with those who are somewhere else, because we might eventually do the same with that person, sharing with them when we are in the presence of others?
Nevertheless, this letter has turned into a novel, my thoughts have turned to idle ramblings, and I fear I am maybe being too harsh on us, or a little unfair. Please write and let me know how fatherhood is treating you. I would love to hear of any signs of Ubuntu you have encountered in your comings and goings. Extend my love to Jessica and that sweet baby boy.
Light and love from a Spring-like Brooklyn day,
We just completed a unit on poetry in the ELA class that I co-teach, and the students have been working on a summative end-of-unit task. They were asked to pick a topic and write a poem about it, with a minimum of 74 words, using at least five literary devices (e.g. onomatopoeia, personification, allusion, alliteration, metaphor, simile, repetition, etc.). The second part of the task asked them to write a page-long artist statement, explaining why they chose the topic they chose, where in their poem and why they employed the literary devices, and how the use of figurative language effects the message of a poem.
There were a couple of poetry-loving students who were naturally very into this assignment. The vast majority of them were indifferent. And then there were those who absolutely hated it, claiming to abhor poetry and the writing of it. One of those students put off writing his poem until the day before it was due. He told me, “I hate poetry, I can’t write it, and I don’t want to do this assignment.” I finally sat down with him and forced him to get his wheels spinning.
He had told me a few days before that he was going to try and write about Brooklyn, so I said, “Ok. You want to write about Brooklyn. What about it?” He told me he wanted to write about how Brooklyn changes people. I thought that was a great idea and asked him if he wanted to focus on Brooklyn and how it changes people, or the actual people being changed by Brooklyn. He said, “People. I’ll focus on a boy and a girl.” Great. Progress.
He said he didn’t even know where to begin, so I suggested we make a rough outline of how it will look. We decided it would have six stanzas, each one switching back and forth between speaking about the boy and the girl. I asked him what he wanted to “say” in the three pairs of stanzas and suggested that each pair have a theme or message. He decided he would speak about the boy and the girl before the change, during the change, and after the change. We were really making progress now!
I threw out an idea about the boy coming from a “bad” area of Brooklyn and him changing for the bad, and the girl coming from a “nice” area of Brooklyn and her changing for the good. He tilted his head in indifference. I said, “Or maybe the boy can come from a bad area, but change for the good. And the girl can come from a nice area, but change for the bad.” His eyes lit up, “I like that! That’s good!” We drew a very basic outline, decided the last line of every stanza could repeat something about Brooklyn, and then I told him he just has to fill in the outline with strategically and beautifully placed words. He seemed more confident than before.
Today he came into class and nonchalantly said, “Mr. Dalton, here’s my poem,” handing me a paper. I read it, and was completely blown away by what he wrote. It was a powerful, skillfully-written poem that had an amazing theme, with “real” characters who had obvious and touching character arcs. I flooded him with compliments and praise, also reminding him that he had said he “hates poetry and can’t write it.” He seemed surprised that I said it is good, and slightly surprised that he might have actually even enjoyed writing it, even if he didn’t fully admit that part.
The rest of the day, I took his poem around, like a proud parent, and read it to the assistant principal, the principal, and any teacher who would listen. And now I will share it with you:
* * *
He’s as bright as a diamond, but still in the rough; glows in the dark of the hood.
Only evil dwells there, no good.
The city tries to brainwash him.
Gangs, alcohol, drugs, they’ll turn a church boy into a thug.
Brooklyn’s voice is loud.
* * *
She seeks change, to be different, but is already privileged;
Lives like royalty looking over a village.
The village speaks through her friends.
Drugs create an illusion, her parents’ grip becomes loosened.
Brooklyn’s voice is loud.
* * *
He is becoming a scholar, he is passing expectations,
Amassing more knowledge than past generations.
Everybody soon loves him. He seeks to bring happiness where ever he goes.
He’s humble; greetings and goodbyes are always given.
Brooklyn’s voice is loud.
* * *
Her downward spiral begins, losing friends, fans, and family.
Everybody views her as a bottom feeder.
Barely clinging to life,
She says she’s depressed, going through strife.
Brooklyn’s voice is loud.
* * *
Zoom! Years pass, people change, before and afters occur.
He has become successful, lived out his dreams.
Now he steps into his hood, he gleams.
He says everything has stayed the same, no evolution.
He views the people that tried to change him as pollution.
Brooklyn’s voice is loud.
* * *
She has become a torched soul, doesn’t know what is reality.
She says “This is just a formality. I can stop,” but it finally falls on deaf ears.
She regrets the first time, saying, “This is fantastic!”
Regrets saying, “Don’t worry, mom. This wont become drastic!”
Regrets not taking control,
Regrets her life as a whole,
She wonders where’s the old crowd now.
Brooklyn’s voice is loud.
How are you faring in Nashville? I know you miss South Africa dearly; there are probably few who understand that as well as I do.
The year-and-a-half I was in Tennessee, in between living in Cape Town and living in Brooklyn, was one of the hardest seasons of my life. It did, however, feel somehow necessary, though I maybe don’t understand the fullness of that necessity even now. Necessary nonetheless.
It is so strange living somewhere when your heart is somewhere completely different. Cape Town was my home for so long. Cape Town was my heart. They say “home is where the heart is,” and that year-and-a-half in Tennessee often left me wondering if I was homeless or heartless; though I was probably a mixture of both, as dramatic as that sounds and is.
All of that to say, I get it. I can imagine your deep longing for South Africa; I can see it in my mind, feel it in my stomach.
My laugh is too loud for America, my eye contact is too strong, and my smiles-to-strangers are too frequent.
I think the laugh was invented on the continent of Africa, and if not, it was most definitely perfected there. Most Africans I have met, from all different countries, from old to young, have learned how to laugh from the gut, from the heart, from the soul. There is nothing better than a whole-hearted, unapologetic, uninhibited, booming laugh. Musical. Poetic. Beautiful.
But not really.
As blasphemous as it might sound, I miss Cape Town less than before. And that has nothing to do with Cape Town, or Tennessee, or Brooklyn. It has everything to do with me. You see, that year-and-a-half in Tennessee, I didn’t really make many major attempts at seeking out Ubuntu, that sense that we are all in this together. I just kind of sat in my own misery, with the occasional wallow, and waited for a savior; forgetting, or maybe not realizing, that I am my own savior or oppressor in those times.
I was rarely living in the moment, and spent more time resenting the past and longing for the future. But rarely just being. Not a healthy place.
I snapped out of it when I moved to Brooklyn.
I started giving of myself again, allowing myself to really be in the moment and not wish for something far off, and I started allowing others in again. I have made such wonderful family here in Brooklyn. I feel so content. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely miss Cape Town, but I am slowly making my home here in Brooklyn, and it feels good, great even.
Enough about me. Please let me know how you are doing. Have you managed to find any favorable signs of Ubuntu where you are?
Say hello to Woodie and the nephews for me. I miss them very much.
Positivity and love from Brooklyn,
Searching for Ubuntu is my latest idea-turned-exploit. Have a look when you get a chance. Here’s the first installment:
I hope this letter finds you well. In general, I am working hard and exhausted, but feel better than I have in a long, long while. I’m in a very good proverbial place right now.
There are, however, some things that have been weighing heavy on my mind; mostly us. No, not you and me specifically or necessarily. But “us” as in humanity. What are we doing? Have we lost the plot? And if, in fact, we have, is it possible to find our way back to it?
When I first moved to Brooklyn, I would ride the subway with a big smile on my face, greeting every person, making eye contact, and sometimes even attempting to strike up conversation. Most people on the subway looked miserable, and I was only sometimes met with warm reception. For the most part, people merely tried to avoid eye contact with everyone. I hated it; so many humans, all piled on top of each other in one city, yet such few human connections.
But city life is fast, and the days can feel longer and more abusive than days in other places. And after a particularly long day, I sometimes find myself assuming the avoid-eye-contact-at-all-costs-and-look-as-miserable-as-possible subway pose. Sad but true. I still hate it.
Tonight on my train ride home, a random stranger tried to befriend me. I’m not sure what about me caught his attention, but he kept making eye contact and smiling at me. I thought I was mistaken at first. But after several stops passed, I realized he was trying to make connection. Even though the hardened, citified version of me told me to be suspicious, I smiled back.
He immediately asked how I was. I responded with something simple, like, “Tired.” With growing skepticism, I didn’t ask how he was doing. I felt like a horrible person, but was obviously conflicted. He asked me where I lived, and voluntarily told me where he lives. He asked what I do on my free time, and I told him between teaching high school and attending grad school, I have no free time.
He said he was trying to be more social, make more time to enjoy the company of friends, because that is the more healthy way to live. I agreed with him fully, but felt my cynicism growing by the second. I went back and forth in my head whether or not I was being realistically skeptical or unrealistically overly paranoid. I never came to any conclusions.
Did I mention he had a kid, maybe 10-years-old, who sat beside him and played a video game the entire time?
They had Whole Foods bags between their legs. That’s normal, right? Not really serial killer vibes, huh?
I noticed a loaf of multigrain bread sitting at the top of the bag.
Right before he reached his stop he gave me his card. I took it, looked down at it, and looked back up at him. He repeated the name I had just read. I only gave him my first name. The train pulled up to his stop, he smiled, said it was nice to meet me, and him, his kid, and their Whole Foods bags were gone.
What is wrong with our human condition that he had to be a rapist or a murderer or a sociopath in my mind? Do you think he might just be a single dad, in a great big city, a little lonely, with no one to talk to, just wanting, no, needing a friend? I don’t know.
Anyways. I have rambled on. Have you had any recent signs that we are part of something bigger than our individual selves? Please let me know how you are doing.
Warmth from cold Brooklyn,
I kept the man’s business card. So, if you think I overacted and should make contact, let me know.