11 February 2009

Snapshot Risk

Well I’ve always been faithful
to my dog and my wife
and I’ve always tried
to lead a responsible kind of life……
but yesterday I stole a car, took it for a drive
I didn’t take it very far
just around the block
all right, a couple of times

How many pictures do you have to take of a person before you know them?

Let me rephrase that question. How many pictures do you have to take of a person before you THINK you know them? 1? 100? 1 million?

In all fairness, the definition of “picture” should be expanded to include all manner of electronic communications, not just images. I include e-mails, social networking site pages, blogs, Twitters, Instant Messaging, phone calls, file attachments, chats, and all the other electronic chaff generated by any human being with some form of electronic network access. Global confetti swirling around in the jet streams of the Internet and telecommunications networks.

And every single flake carrying the imprint of you, partial and incomplete.

It makes me feel disembodied. I feel no sense of real control over who and what I am. There is that old anecdote about primitive cultures believing that having one’s picture taken was tantamount to having your soul stolen. “Ha, ha,” we modern folks laugh, “How silly”, secure in the knowledge that a camera couldn’t possibly steal a soul. Well, secure when we even bother to acknowledge that a soul might exist. I cannot prove or disprove that the soul exists, but I am not prepared to disown the idea. I think there is…something…there. Otherwise, I cannot begin to explain why I sometimes feel that perhaps it has been stolen.

I don’t think I know me
as well as I thought I did
I don’t think I know me
like I thought I did

A camera by itself may not be able to steal a soul, but perhaps the sum total of electronica that we deal with on a daily basis might. It occurs to me, though, that perhaps it isn’t a question of having it stolen, so much as it is we give it away. Freely, willingly, and without much thought. That little anxiety slips under my skin like a needle, every time I hit “send”. I cannot avoid it, unless I am willing to avoid communications almost all together. This is not possible or practical. I have too much invested in it, too many things I want to see and hear.

It bothers me that we act like cameras, every day, but what is the alternative? Filtering information from the immense streams of data we process minute by minute, hour by hour, is like trying to sip water from a fire hose. To deal with the stream, in an attempt to make sense of this flood, we slice it. We freeze it. We cherry pick a singular moment, a wafer thin slice of infinity and pretend that we have all we need to know about anyone.

…if I say all my prayers
I’ll go to heaven
at least I pray that I will
but yesterday in my neighbor’s yard
I stole my neighbor’s bike
I don't intend to give that Harley back
it occurs to me
that ain’t very Christian like

As long as we confine our conclusions to the particular slice of information we have at that particular time this approach may work. It is so limiting, though, because of the narrowness of the focus. Dipping our hands in a river to study the palmful of water does not truly qualify us to speak of the river as a whole.

I wonder what river I am sometimes, when the Outside samples me at random and without my knowledge. Who is dipping their hands in the river, and when? What water are they seeing, smelling, tasting? The Nile is a very different entity from the dry season to the floods. If someone samples when running clear they will think very differently than someone who samples a mouthful of silty water. They may not want to come back. Conclusions will be drawn, some unfavorable, some not. But the information used to generate those conclusions is all me.

…and my family takes picnics
to the park on warm weather holidays
and we ask all our neighbors
and they invite all their friends in kind
and they all bring side dishes
and we form one big holiday buffet line…

Electronic media may be a wonderful facilitator, but it is also a powerful distorter. We tend to forget that what we see or read at any given moment is not the whole story of the person or thing represented. Life as reality TV: be careful what you say or do, because you don’t get to be the editor of it all, unless you control the media itself. Controlling all media is impossible.

So who do I live my life for? Is it for myself, or the invisible universe? I want to live it for myself, whatever that takes. Ultimately, I cannot control what the world will think of me, no matter what I say and do. That includes good and bad, polite and rude, courageous or cowardly. And I know I cannot be all good all the time, just as I would never be bad all the time. But I do realize I that I will never be able to dictate what people see at any given moment, because I do not control their time and how they choose to spend it. I am also painfully self-conscious much of the time. So you can see this creates a powerful dilemma for me. How do I live a fully engaged life as me without drowning in a sea of anxiety created by the uncontrollable snap judgments of others?

…but yesterday, Independence Day
at eighty-five miles an hour
I plowed that Harley through the buffet line
it occurs to me…

The solution I believe to be simple like making steamed rice or making bread. Don’t laugh, it’s true. I don’t mean instant rice or prepackaged bread dough. I mean plain rice out of bag, no treatments. I mean flour, salt, yeast and water. Do you remember the first time you tried to make rice, or a loaf of bread? I do. It was…edible, sort of. But the end result defied the expectations engendered by the seeming simplicity of it all. How could something so simple be so hard to do?

It takes patience, care and attention to detail. With so few ingredients, they have to be good quality and you have to treat them right. So I reckoned that for my life I would stick to good ingredients, not too many and take good care of them. I finally realized that I can say and write and post what I want. To remove the worry, all that is required is honesty, sincerity and not saying things that I could possibly regret later, or that I would want to take back. Don’t commit it to speech or paper or image unless you really mean it, no matter what. Be true.

I don’t think I know me
as well as I thought I did
I don’t think I know me
like I thought I did

We all take snapshots. But snapshots only offer information about a particular set of circumstances, a singular look at someone that doesn’t offer enough data about the whole. In my case, I am striving to put up snapshots that really are me. A tall order when “I’m a million different people from one day to the next” as Verve says. But I can’t worry about that anymore. Try and take a lot of snapshots. After all, a single tile does not a mosaic make.

I am a mosaic. Make a picture out of me.

(Italicized paragraphs are lyrics from the song “I Don’t Think I Know Me” by Eddie From Ohio, on the album Big Noise)
THE CHEST THUMPING CONTINUES: Please don't forget the HeBlogs/SheBlogs contest forget sponsored by Petra over at The Wise (*Young*) Mommy. Today's entries are from Captain Dumbass at Us and Them and Matt from DCUrbanDad, two nice guys who are quite funny and thoughtful and will lose, er, do their best. The posts go up at 8:00. Check them out, it will get your day off to a roaring start!


  1. Quite an interesting post today. It's true we all say something and throw it out there and who knows how others will see it. We can only hope they do see us in a positive way I suppose.

    "Make a picture out of me" - that's very interesting. Do you mean we should do so? If so, here's what I see:

    You're very witty with your writing, which likely translates well in person. There seems to be uncertainty as well as to who you think you are and if your life is on the right track. But you seem to be using humor and whatever else you've got to figure it out.

    I go through the same, life is up and down and lower still and sometimes it's good and bad and ugly. I enjoy using the medium of the internet to 'speak' with people. Somedays I find it's the people I don't actually know that understand the most.

  2. All about narrowing your focus... this is so true. I love this post. I had just (by "just", I mean within the last 2 minutes) been thinking about all the snapshots swirling around. I've also been thinking a lot about how much info about me I want out there...
    Though provoking as usual, Irish.

  3. I've been pondering similar stuff of late too. For myself, I've always known that I'm presenting a version of myself through the written word that's more articulate and more coherent than the "real" me (case in point - I've edited this comment to make more sense).

    That version is still a part of me, as much of me as the person who slurs and shouts down the pub. But, yes, anyone who just reads my blog posts is only getting part of the whole self. It's still all very much me, though.

    I don't know whether that made very much sense. But then I'm like that sometimes too...

  4. J'ai comprende, Irish.

    I try to always give accurate portraits of myself in the blog, but, yeah. It's probably only a portion of the whole.

    And then, there is that alternate personality that sneaks in a post every so often. I think her name is Sybil.

  5. Irish,

    As usual, a great post.

    As you know, I've spent a lot of time on the internet the last couple of days (more than usual)posting/commenting, etc. I find it oddly tiring. At the end of the day I feel exhausted; spent. It's interesting because "real world" relationships are usually invigorating. Maybe I'm just feeling little bits of my soul being taken.


  6. I agree with IB it HAS been exhausting reading your entries these past few days... OH!!! That was too easy.

    As for this post, and I hope this doesn't come off in a mean way, but this is the kind of thing some teenagers and a big bag of weed could lay around and ponder for days. It totally reminded me of a stoner conversation. What if we are all like just a tiny atom on the head of a pin kind if talk.

    I love it. great thoughts. great post.

  7. Great post today, Irish! You are a complex fellow, for sure. And you let us see little bits of yourself, each day. And apparently, you're making everyone think this morning (not easy since I'm on my first cuppa) about how complex our lives are as well.

  8. Oh, wow. Why is it that this one touched me so? It's not a life changer for me since I came to this conclusion a long time ago. I quite honestly CAN'T afford to care what people think of me. It takes too much time and energy worrying about what others think. And I don't have that in me. I'm so glad that you have "awakened" and I can't wait to see more.

    As usual, you astound me. Truly you do.

  9. I think that this is the first post I've read that so accurately pondered this subject. I'm going to spend some time thinking about this today. Thanks for that.

  10. Very thought provoking. I just don't have the energy to ponder over it.

  11. Great post. I've always thought that I don't think anyone really knows me. And that's because there are times when I don't know myself. I can make myself be who I want to be. But the real me can be hidden deep. And then I think that it's a bit sad that the true spirit of me isn't known. Some people see me as their boss, as a person at meetings, as a team mate on the rowing crew, but few people know my heart and mind. Very few.

  12. I think truly 'knowing' other people is a rare gift. Some people are more capable of doing it than others. Some can form a very accurate impression of a person very quickly - so accurate that it barely changes as they get acquainted. Others just never 'get' other people at all.

    See if you can guess which I am. ;)

    I often wonder what other people's impression of who I am is.. as I have so consistently been mis-interpreted and misunderstood in my life. I guess you could label me 'a tough nut to crack'.. a very tough skinned onion, not easily peeled.

    IG, you and I have done much soul-bearing over the past month or so (gosh.. has it really only been a month? wow..), do you feel you know me? Did your initial perception of me change as you learned more about me?

    Words, especially honest ones, can create a much cleaner window to the soul than a physical meeting can, no? When people meet face to face, it makes it much easier, much harder to resist the temptation, to put up a front. Don't you think?

    Still, as MamaDawg said in her comment a couple days ago, I would love to meet so many of my online acquaintances in real life - to see what they are like.. how they behave.. hear their voices.. It's a very intriguing thought.

    Okay.. I'll shut up now. ;)

  13. Your whole summing up of all the pictures reminds me of my Name portion of my post http://cajoh.blogspot.com/2008/07/name-occupation-health-feelings.html in which there is a vast amount of information that you can know about a person. However, the other portions are the ones I tend to focus on.

    Great Post!

  14. I am just learning about who I am and see it as a lifelong process....most days are quite mundane. I too try to express my honesty through my blog...warts and all, but know I have to keep some things to myself....to many family members read it, it would freak them out.

    Photos as well as blog posts are simply snapshots...there is a before and after story couching the pic you've taken or described.

    ON the other hand, there are times when I write something which seems generic to me....and its only afterwards that someone will point out how it's linked to myself...or I will see it much later when I've reread the piece. We have blindspots that others see of us, and we don't see it yet. That's a scary thought isn't it??

    great post...:)

  15. Dude, you're exHUASTING me over here. This topic is intriguing, the exploration insightful and poetic, but ex-haus-ting nonetheless.

  16. Maybe the electronic media amplifies, rather than diminishes the soul? In the sense that each piece of who you are can be selected, explored, embellished, and interpreted by a much larger population than we would otherwise ever encounter.
    Who's to say who the "real you" is? Plato's cave, anyone?

  17. There are a hundred different things I want to say about this post. Particularly pertaining to my thoughts on the subject. I'm just going to think about how best to put it...

  18. "A wafer thin slice of infinity..."

    I love that.

    I think about this often and feel comforted to have had it articulated so well for me. Sometimes it feels powerful to have so much control over the version of "me" that I present through this medium, but lately I'm reevaluating this idea because in many ways there's less control over the "me" that I present than there is in real life. You can't read people's faces, gauge their reactions, and modify your content accordingly as you go. You have no real sense of or control over people's interpretations of you. And that's why, while this is fun and cathartic at times, it's also truly very sad and lonely sometimes. You just hope that what you send out is read the way you want it to be read, and that it represents the essence of you, or at the very least that you get your point across or makes someone laugh.

  19. THere are a lot of layers to you, Irish...


  20. It's an interesting post.

    I also want to live for myself, but I haven't figured out quite what that means or how exactly to balance myself with those I love (to heck with the rest of them).

  21. BMA: How did you do that? Very good, and accurate, picture. Thank

    OAM: Glad you liked it. Timely, it sounds like.

    TBF: I find the written word makes it possible for me to be more articulate/coherent as well. I haven’t shouted down a pub in too long…and it did make sense!

    Janie: That alternate personality is cool, too. :)

    IB: Thank you. And that bit about feeling the soul being taken? You could be right!

    TPR: (bellylaugh) You got a million of ‘em :) No, the teenagers/bag o’ weed? Sometimes, I feel like they have taken up residence in my head and won’t go home…And thank you!

    Joanie: Complex or complicated, I’m not sure which :) Sorry about the thinking!

    MD: *blush* And you honor me, m’lady :)

    Pamela: Um, the thinking, did I do a good thing? :)

    Michelle: Have some Red Bull, it may help…

    Syd: Thank you. This “sum” vs. “whole” issue has stuck in my head for a long time. I think layers can be a necessary thing.

    CPM: You are pretty quick on the draw, I think. Nothing wrong with being a tough nut. I’ll get back to you on the perception thing (and if I don’t do it soon, remind me!). And honest words mean more to me now than I ever thought possible, whether on the screen or to my face. :)

    CaJoh: Oh, I need to check that out! I’ve been meaning to stop by your blog, will do that soon.

    Awareness: I have had that very same experience. It is always an eye opener! Thank you!

    Cat: Glad you liked (?) it. You and Michelle, get together, have some coffee ;)

    Vic: In some cases, yes. Depends on the fragment to be modified. Plato, OMG…

    Petra: Thank you!

    Belle: Oh. My, I hope I sent you in the right direction, please let me know…

    Steam: Glad you liked that, a nice phrase if I do say so myself. I am glad to help. It does give one pause to consider just what will happen to the info once you release it.

    Pearl: Think of me as the “Vidalia” onion of the blogosphere…

    K: I know, balance is a tricky thing to master. But honesty and truth is key.

  22. You know what I like about you, Irish???

    I have to reserve time to read your post. And then, when I do, I have to save more time to go back and read it again. . .and again. . . and again. . .

    Be back later. . .

  23. Seriously, buddy, we need to go get drunk and watch some strippers.

  24. Ok,I'm back. . .

    I love the river analogy. I have to admit you got me for a moment with the dry and rainy seasons, but then I remembered that no one approaches a river without some knowledge of how a river is meant to appear. . .and smell. . .and taste. . .

    We all look at things (judge - if you will) within the context of what we already know.

    And what we know about you, Irish, is that you are . . . . you are. . .

    Wait. . . I'll get back to you on this . . .

  25. Lizspin:I am glad to be liked, it comforts me. Spot on analysis about the river and judging things.

    As to me? Well, as John Thorne said about Texas chili "Ain't nobody taken that boy's picture yet!" :)

    Captain: I am so with you on that, let's go...

  26. This reminded me of something I read that attempted to define the information age. The contention was this is the information age - not because of the massive volumes of information we have access to, but because of the challenge in filtering out the essential elements contained within that information into something people can actually use.

    It's ironic how you can personalize a blog, social networking site, web page, etc and still have your identity swept up in the sea of internet ambiguity.

  27. CK: Filtering is an essential element, spot on. How do you set the filters to get what you want? tough problem. And the ambiguity is compounded by all of the things you listed. "copies of copies of copies..."

  28. I always save your posts as a nightcap. Lots of dreambuilding material here. Could explain why I've been having Dali-esque dreams lately. Everything all melty and stretchy...and those damn ants...they're fookin' everywhere :)

    Rock on, Irish.

    Peace - Rene

  29. Irish!

    What an interesting blog you have.. so glad I stumbled upon it..

    Chantel from INTHE WEEDS!

  30. Whoa, very deep and thought provoking. Loves it.
    And its interesting that with my picture, the snapshot I've chosen to display to the world as it were, and others I've noticed, we've played around with the lighting, the tone, the colors. As much as I'm not hiding behind a veil, maybe I too don't think I know me like I thought I did.

  31. NTR: Very nice! I hope its like a fine cognac...Rockin' on as directed! :)

    Intheweeds: Welcome! Thank you, and glad you found me. Peace!

    Rightonmom: Thank you. And I had the same feeling looking at my profile image. Hmmm...

  32. Filtering? No clue. I have ADD so the information super highway is like playing jacks in the middle of the road. As overwhelming as a Mack Truck at 80 mphs and seriously dangerous if I want to be productive in a day. (and of course I'll spend the whole day monitoring comments at Petra's. The quick fix of immediate feedback on my writing is an irresistible addiction compared to waiting for sales figures, critic reviews and spot in Oprah's book club line up).

  33. I believe that on my quest to find peace I will get to know every piece of my mosaic tile one by one, and if I go before I know every one than I have made some kind of picture with what I left...

  34. CK: Love the superhighway analogy!

    ChefE: What a lovely image. Thank you for that!


"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...