This weekend a friend asked why I was deleting my Twitter account and starting a new one. Because I use Twitter too compulsively, I said, and it eats up too much time. And if I just sign out of my current account, then sooner rather than later, I will come back to it and to all of the interesting and likable people I follow. So I’m making a new account that won’t follow anyone, I said. But I will write things on a blog and post links to those things on the new Twitter, for people who might want to know about the things that I write.
But won’t writing blog posts eat up time just like Twitter did? he asked.
No, I said. Twitter is like a busy street in a big city, full of smart, poetic, funny and crazy and scary people. All of them are talking loudly, having conversations that you want to jump into. Or you want to start a conversation yourself. Or you just want a soapbox. Or maybe you want to fight about something. It’s very entertaining but equally ephemeral (which is part of the attraction).
A blog is like a small farm, though, outside the city. It’s much quieter on the farm, and you hope to produce something, I think, more nourishing than tweets. For your efforts to yield much, you do need to tend to your work with regularity. Not with urgency — but the farming/blogging must be more or less routine, more or less consistent. It is good if it is done with some care, some appreciation or even love for the environment which makes it possible. If you do it with enough care, people will visit your farm, your blog, and take something away with them when they go. They can come back later and find that a new crop has come in, but otherwise, little has changed. There is some calm, some peace to be found. There is a satisfying energy that comes from farming, a sense of time well spent. Twitter is delightful, but has it ever left anyone feeling that way?
The title of this blog comes from Roger Zelazny’s novel Lord of Light. The main character, who is the Buddha on a planet settled by humans in the far future, is preaching a sermon about the nature of reality. He calls the universe “the thing that has never happened before.” Even if other universes have been formed, each is unique; each is a thing that has never happened before.
Later, the preacher reminds his audience: “The thing that has never happened before is still happening.” We would do well to keep this in mind. After all, we are on a fearsome and magnificent cusp, all of us, learning to live at light speed, humanity awakening unto itself, more aware of our awareness than ever before. Historians will say many things about us, but never that this wasn’t quite a time to be alive. It often feels terrifying. There’s a lot of pain and confusion and rage in the world at present, quite close to the surface. We understandably declare this state of things “bad.”
And yet — the truth is, we’re currently living through the development of the first internet we’ve ever encountered. We don’t know what it’s supposed to look like when a worldwide sentient species suddenly begins communicating with itself at near-instant speeds. But from watching my 13-month-old daughters, I do know that coming to grips with our own consciousness and autonomy — an inheritance so terrifyingly profound, most of us are doomed to spend decades reckoning with it — involves a fair amount of pain, confusion, and rage. Is that “bad”? Or is it just an inescapable part of growth? The old Taoist story about the farmer comes to mind. As awful as everything feels right now, we don’t know how it’s all going to turn out.
But I do know that in tumultuous and violent times, it is wise to take a step back when possible, to remove yourself from the commotion if you feel the need, no matter how enthralling it may be, so that you can focus on the work that matters, on something more sustainable, with rigor and composure and direction. It seems to me that we need to create a culture that values slowing down, moving at a more human speed, a speed that allows for real thought, if we want to live in a happier future; and the first step is necessarily that some of us must actually slow down. That’s what this is. I hope it works.