Now, we are caught in a series of confusing battles between opposing forces: between truth and falsehood, fact and rumour, kindness and cruelty; between the few and the many, the connected and the alienated; between the open platform of the web as its architects envisioned it and the gated enclosures of Facebook and other social networks; between an informed public and a misguided mob.
What is common to these struggles – and what makes their resolution an urgent matter – is that they all involve the diminishing status of truth. This does not mean that there are no truths. It simply means, as this year has made very clear, that we cannot agree on what those truths are, and when there is no consensus about the truth and no way to achieve it, chaos soon follows.
Increasingly, what counts as a fact is merely a view that someone feels to be true – and technology has made it very easy for these “facts” to circulate with a speed and reach that was unimaginable in the Gutenberg era (or even a decade ago). A dubious story about Cameron and a pig appears in a tabloid one morning, and by noon, it has flown around the world on social media and turned up in trusted news sources everywhere. This may seem like a small matter, but its consequences are enormous.
Loneliness is hell; I knew that. And yet, I couldn’t help but crave it once more. If only for a moment.
When most people think of birds in New York City, they think of pigeons, or perhaps starlings or house sparrows quarreling at a street corner. They may think of Canada geese making a nuisance in a park. Leslie Day, in her Field Guide to the Neighborhood Birds of New York City, does not look down on these commonest birds. She enfolds them all in an affectionate embrace. She regrets efforts to limit the Canada goose population, even in the vicinity of JFK airport. Mainly she wants us to know that there are many more kinds of birds to be seen and admired in New York City than just these omnipresent species.
I have three friendships that grew out of postcard correspondences. I met W and H at an artist residency (fourteen years ago and six years ago, respectively) and M at a conference for writers eleven years ago. We were all already writers. But the four of us, individually, also had a practice of writing postcards to friends—and we all still do.
Caroline, one of my best friends, died in June. Everyone grieves differently, people told me. There is no “right” or “wrong” way. But I can’t help it. I need a template. I was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome about 13 years ago. Since I found out, things have been a bit easier because I know that while it gives me the occasional difficulty, watching what other people are doing helps. Dealing with grief is uncharted territory; I need to know what I should be doing and do it, ideally with a timetable.