Sunday, April 29, 2012

Yes. No. Maybe So.

Engine, engine, number nine.
Going down Chicago line.
If the train stops on the track.
Do you want your money back?
Yes. No. Maybe so.
Yes. No. Maybe so.

I come back to this rhyme often whenever I am at the crossroads of an important decision, Is this a clear yes, a definite no or that waffling maybe so? It’s the latter for me now as I face a profound life-changing choice. For those who know me, it’s worthy of drum rolls or danger music or sweet violins, some support for the sheer drama of the moment. And so I draw it out here a bit longer to give you the sense of build-up and make you wonder whether I’m talking about something as monumental as retirement from my school after 37 years or moving to Washington DC to raise my grandchild while my daughter and husband work or getting some plastic surgery so I can look in the mirror again. Are you ready?

I’m considering joining Facebook.

For those who know me, I’ll wait until you get back up from off the floor. How did this happen? It’s as simple as this. I was looking at my school’s Facebook page with my colleague Sofia and noted a few comments to the posting about my new book. It was sweet to think of the people I knew (some alums from a while back) offering a word of congratulations. But that was just the warm-up.

Sofia then posted the photo and announcement on her Facebook and within a few hours, there were 60 comments!! People I knew from Iran, China, Thailand, Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, Spain, Austria, Australia, Turkey, Finland, the Orff circuit in the U.S., more school alums. Then Sofia posted it on other Facebook pages of Orff Associations and she’s reporting that the little notes of congratulations keep pouring in.

I am simply, as they say in the vernacular, blown away. Not only from the pleasure of seeing all the names of people I’ve met in this work and curious about the people I haven’t yet met, but more amazingly, how many people are tuned in to Facebook world-wide at any one moment and responding instantly. Makes e-mail and Websites seem antique, this technology of instant connection and available for all to see simultaneously at a button click. To write an e-mail, no matter how short, takes some time and attention, but the attraction here is the quick “Congratulations!” the ease of posting and the sense of participating in this ongoing 24/7 conversation of sorts. There is no doubt that this has become the preferred medium of contact (though some say others already are on the rise).

So as someone involved in public discourse, I have to pause, shake my head and consider—should I join them? On a purely practical level, my book has just gotten tons of free advertising and different from an announcement from me (which I made on my antiquated group e-mail list). It has gotten some kind of affirmation from people from all over, which makes other think that they should be in the ‘buy Doug’s books” club. And, of course, they’re right. You should!

Someone at a recent school meeting said that people are attracted to success—they want to feel part of something that is known and popular and successful, not only to justify their involvement and their investment of time and money, but to identify with success, to feel part of something larger that is working well. Sports are an obvious case in point. It was remarkable how I (and all of San Francisco) was willing to spend so much time with the Giants in the World Series when ordinariy we wouldn’t give them the time of day. When they won and I joined the throngs in the streets roaring for an hour straight, it was as if we ourselves had hit the winning run or thrown the last pitch.

Not that I’m comparing my books to a World Series win, but the eight I have written are reasonably successful by Orff standards and seem to have proven useful and stimulating for those who have bought them. In sheer marketing terms, I’d be a fool to ignore something as potent as Facebook seems to be. Not to mention the ease of advertising my upcoming concert with my new Pentatonics Jazz Group (May 12th/SF School— it is THE cool event of the month! Don’t miss out!). So what are my hesitations?

Again, those who know me can predict. The quick hit of Facebook lends itself to surface sharing—“Just had a great dinner with a fine wine. Yummy!”—and I’m the archaelogist always trying to dig below the surface. If the dinner and wine reminded me of the caves in France where I dined back in 1973 with 40 hippies in the Antioch Chorus and stumbled out to the vineyards singing 15th century motets, that would be a story worth telling. No one cares that I “just brushed my teeth,” but if it leads to a look at fluoride in the water of 1950’s New Jersey or my recent nitrous oxide drug trip at the dentist, then it becomes more worthy of expression. I have loved this blog format that invites me the writer and you the reader to go on the first part of an archealogical dig for whatever subject presents itself. Not what I did, but what it might mean and what it might reveal.

“Well and good” you say. No need to compare and contrast. Handwritten letters are one thing, e-mail another, blogs one thing, texting another, Facebook its own town in the kingdom of Medialand. Pick and choose, use each for what it does well, don’t try to force one mode of expression into another. (Many people have simply not read some of my group e-mails because they’re too long for their e-mail expectation. And this blog is challenging the welcome limits of this format!)

But there is a catch. All of these media tap on the real, ancient, and universal urge to belong, to feel connected, to be social, to be “in with the In Crowd.” And it takes a lot of time and energy to keep up. It edges us towards obsessive addiction to constant checking so we’re not left out of the loop. So if I’m already checking my answering machine, my e-mails, my school e-mails, my blogs, do I really want to add Facebook to the list?  I’ve left cell phones off my list of acceptable media for precisely the reason that for them to work efficiently, they require constant checking. How much is enough? How much can I handle before my life is more about announcing my experiences or documenting them than having them?

So I’ll close with this question:

Driver engine number nine.
Facebook’s yours, should it be mine?
If my life goes off the track.
Will I want to get it back?
Yes. No. Maybe so.
Yes. No. Maybe so.

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