I’ve been thinking about Facebook a lot lately. Or maybe I don’t mean *lately.* Maybe I should just come clean and say: I think a lot about Facebook. Who doesn’t, really? We all love to hate it or pretend we hate it; we all roll our eyes and inject irony into our voices when we admit to having gleaned a particular piece of news or gossip or information on Facebook. “I only know it from Facebook,” we confess. “I saw it mentioned in a comment thread.” We understand each other perfectly. We smirk over our shared jokey disgust.
I spent most of yesterday putting together notes to write a defense of James Franco and his work. In 2002, before his life became the huge performance piece it is now, I had a run-in with Franco at a Warhol retrospective in Los Angeles. He was there alone, on a slow day, and seemed to be earnestly enjoying the work. These larger, hip retrospectives in LA are wont to become scenes – places to be seen as opposed to places to see, and it was clear he was there for the latter. That moment and this recent appearance on the Colbert Report endeared him to me. Franco’s a smart dude, and of course, it makes sense. His parents are the Keatons for god’s sake. The mother is a poet and an editor, and his father runs a non-profit; they met at Stanford. We should be lucky he didn’t go the way of Alex P. and isn’t Rick Santorum’s right hand. If you were to strip the celebrity from him, his academic endeavors make sense. Almost.
It was a March evening in Havana and still hot at 6 pm. I was on my way to my apartment in the central neighborhood of Vedado on a street called Zapata. This area is a stone´s throw from the Plaza de la Revolución, where for decades Fidel Castro delivered monumental speeches to the masses. That era had long passed by the time I arrived in Cuba in 2006. That was the year that the Commander and Chief delegated power to his younger brother Raul.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, “things you can do” books were sprouting like weeds. The Earthworks group published a particularly popular one called 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth. It was followed by versions for kids and variations for saving the animals. Other concepts riffed off the title to offer guidance for preventing diseases like Alzheimer’s, for selling things like books, and even for avoiding things like saving the planet. We postmodern folks in the developed world seem to love the concept of a simple list that will smite our woes and assuage our consciences (or at least make us laugh). I have to confess to being one of them if you take as evidence the fact that I purchased and disseminated, with abandon, 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth. I come to find, however, that I may have been misguided.
It’s the cruellest month: lilacs, dead land, spring rain…you know how it goes. For several reasons this April has seemed particularly dismal to me, not in small part due to an car accident that occurred earlier, in March. There’s nothing like a face-to-face encounter with Death to make clear how little control we have over our lives, how powerless we are when it comes to protecting those we love and even those who are strangers to us. In this case, thankfully, everyone involved was physically okay after the collision (and I am, of course, deeply grateful for that), but grappling with the idea that we are ultimately helpless in the face of greater, uncontrollable forces launched me, for a good part of the spring, into a deep funk.