Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What Would Dr. King Think?

I love those kinds of questions. For their rhetorical ridiculousness.

No matter how tempting it is to cut and paste the wisdom of those who are no longer with us to understand and negotiate contemporary scenarios, it is hardly in the best interest of anyone.

Wisdom, you see, is a slimy baton.

It exists in and of itself and has value as it is. But the most important thing you can know about wisdom is that it is transferrable. And that it must be that. It is something that can be built on. And something that should be carried. Advanced, even. Wisdom, after all, is as much an act as it is an object.

This makes total sense when you understand that life ain't a sprint or a marathon. It's a relay. And we all have legs to run.

Dr. King knew that. Probably 'cause he had seen the mountaintop. And that was enough for him.

As that speech reveals, Dr. King recognized that the tape stretched across the finish line was probably not waiting for him to break through it. Just as the feet that bolted from the starter's block were not his own.

He carried the baton. Added his own sweet slime to it. And handed it to the next runner.

Just like you should.

(Me...I'm not a runner. I hoop. We're much more about emasculation than emancipation. Some of us might even be just plain ignorant.)

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

I Think I Won the VietNam War

I started reading this book, The Best and the Brightest, way back in November. Of last year. On the day I met the single most memorable person I know. For lunch. The day before her birthday. Several hours before I planed across the Atlantic. To the Netherlands. Seven months--and three countries and two broken hearts and one haircut--later, I have finally arrived at its 672nd page. I am done reading it. Finally.

Which is something of a shame.

Firstly, because it is a spectacularly good read.

Secondly, because it never should have taken me that long to slog through it.

Lastly, because that damn'd Halberstam is gonna make me start writing. Again. For the second time.

When I logged entry #100, I thought it a nice milestone to savor. And a good occasion to take a break. Maybe re-design the layout. Possibly re-think my tagging system.

Then I got enveloped by the NCAA Tournament. Swallowed by the NBA Play-offs. Addicted to Wildly distracted by my dayjob. And trudged ever more slowly toward finishing and releasing that movie. You know the one. All of which left me grossly uninspired. Unmotivated. Probably both.

Which is all a tapestry of excuses for saying I had nothing to say.

(Perhaps I still don't. But let's pretend for an entry that I do.)

History exists mostly in slivers. Highlights. This thing happened. Then that thing happened. Now, here we are. Slivers are often bundled together conveniently to express what we come to know as eras. These chunks are charged with telling the stories of the events that deliver us to the holy surprise of right now.

Which allows me to say something like "The '60s" and have you instantly call up the 32kb of data stored in your own walking hard drive to understand what that means.

But in doing so, do you actually understand what took place on the planet Earth from Jan. 1, 1960 through Dec. 31, 1969?

(You don't have to answer that. It's a rhetorical question. Which you knew. But I needed an excuse to plop parentheses here.)

Context is, mostly, a luxury for any contemporary storyteller. It probably should be a prerequisite, but often isn't. In the race to the point, you're often forced to splice in whatever context the attention span of your audience will afford you. That challenge is not unlike the way that warfare is waged during the digital age. Or the last days of analogue. The ones that took place during the '60s.

Which brings me to the explanation of how I think I won the VietNam War.

It is, to be sure, a facetious claim. But one that someone should make. There were too many lives, too many resources, too many careers and too much talent squandered in the accidental, yet desperately purposeful chasing of ghosts in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Halberstam gave us an epic recounting of how many men went so very wrong. And dozens of others--through books, movies, etc--have weighed in on the same. The gift that all of them--especially Halberstam--can offer is the gift of context.

(That, BTW, means you can win the VietNam War, too.)

The war wasn't some monolithic collection of slivers. There were a whole lot of ideas, philosophies, flukes of circumstance and political pressures that delivered us to 1965. And then kept the US tab running until 1975. VietNam isn't simply synonymous with the '60s. And the '60s aren't simply synonymous with VietNam. The decade--like the war--was richly comprised of visible and invisible forces which drove the events--some connected, some not--that unfolded during it. Neither can be neatly captured. And both must be exhaustively recounted in order to really understand what happened.

It's not something you can do in less than seven months.