Nov 292013

I was surfing facebook the other day and I commented on a friend’s post. A few minutes later I returned to the post and saw that she had “liked” other friends’ comments but not mine.

I had neither seen nor spoken to nor corresponded with this person for years but I felt slighted.

An hour or so later I checked the post again and was relieved to find that my old friend had deigned to “like” my comment too.

See, the thing was, earlier, I saw she had “liked” the comment of somebody who had commented AFTER me, so I had to conclude at that time that she had deliberately declined to like my comment, which she must have seen as well.

Am I the only person who would ever give a second thought to something so patently trival? Somehow I doubt it.

In his essay “Pain Won’t Kill You” (which was also his commencement address at Kenyon College in May 2011),  Jonathan Franzen wrote of “the ongoing transformation, courtesy of Facebook, of the verb to like from a state of mind to an action that you perform with your computer mouse: from a feeling to an assertion of consumer choice.”

I think this is blazingly insightful. Extending the metaphor, if one refuses to “like” you or your comment, then they are not “buying” you, or what you have to offer. No wonder it seems to go deep. Even though it’s not really deep at all. It’s a pathetically negligible matter, these mouse-click “likes.” The stuff of emptiness.

So, a reminder to myself and anyone who can relate: When playing with social media, be mindful of your psychic real estate allocation.

Nov 262013

I often leave flyers out in public, advertising my “wordsmith” writing and editing business. So I receive occasional calls from strangers, some of whom become clients, others of whom are just odd.

A couple of Friday evenings ago there was a message blinking at me on my business line when I got home. I had mixed feelings upon seeing it; I had planned a relaxed Friday evening at home with my books, personal writing projects, and a video or two. For me, even just speaking on the phone with a potential client is a type of work; I have to “present”; it takes me out of my easy zone.

But I can’t ignore potential work, so I listened to the message. The caller said she was looking for someone to help her write a book. I called her back.

I realized very quickly that this was not a potential client. Her voice was unsteady and full of pain. The book she (allegedly) wanted to write was autobiographical, concerning a sequence of devastating events that had unfolded in her life over several years, involving family members, ex-boyfriends, and terrible violence. She felt that her life was currently in danger, but she could get no help from the police. I felt certain she was at least partly delusional; her life might indeed be in danger but the story she told me was as obviously self-deceiving as it was disturbing.

After hearing her out for fifteen minutes or so, I asked her why she wanted – of all things – to write a book. The gist of her semi-coherent reply was that she thought “people would be interested” in her story and perhaps could learn from it not to make any of the same well-meaning mistakes she had made. She also articulated some vague hope that “having her story out there” might afford her some measure of protection that the police were withholding.

I told her I thought she really needed someone to talk to, perhaps a counselor.

She said, “I need to talk to a lawyer! But they all want to charge me money!” She then started to regale me with stories of unsympathetic attorneys, but I stopped her.

I said, “I think what you really need, right now, most of all, is just someone to talk to. Maybe a therapist. Do you have access to computer? Can you google ‘free counseling services Santa Rosa’?”

She did have a computer but for one reason or another, my suggestion wasn’t so simple for her. I was at my computer so I googled it for her, and wound up giving her the name and number of an “SOS” free counseling agency as well as an individual professional who apparently offers free consultations and referrrals. And then I politely explained to my caller that I was neither a therapist nor a lawyer myself, and I didn’t think that writing a book was what she really needed to do, so I didn’t think we would be working together. And I told her I had to go.

She thanked me sincerely for the names I’d found on the internet, and we hung up.

We had been on the phone only about 20 to 25 minutes. I felt my evening was shot though. My pleasant, relaxed mood was broken. I was agitated, unsettled.

I resented it. Why do people like that call me sometimes? (This woman was an extreme case, but I’ve also had other callers – strangers! – who were essentially looking for free therapy, or god knows what kind of advocacy.)

I can’t be the only who puts his phone number out into the world and gets calls like this. I guess there’s just an enormous amount of pain out there. I set up my life in such a way as to shut it out for the most part. But it seems to want to find its way in.

Nov 102013

Today I was awakened by a knock at the door from a Jehovah’s Witness. They usually arrive in small groups, but this divinely appointed ambassador was by himself. He was a portly middle-aged man with a wide mustache, wearing a bright clean jacket, white shirt, and tie. (The JWs always dress to the nines, don’t they?) He held out a pamphlet and said very deferentially, “Hi. We’re here this morning giving these out to you and your neighbors—”

I interrupted him and snapped (truthfully), “I’ve asked the Jehovah’s Witnesses repeatedly not to bother me!” and I shut the door briskly in his face. I saw, through the glass in the top half of my door, that he looked forlorn.

I think it is hugely important to be nice and that it makes a significant difference in the world. “Nice” has acquired connotations over the years of superficiality or even phoniness, but I like it because it’s a simple, unpretentious word. “Nice” simply means being pleasant. The more respectable term today is “kind,” but to me “kind” sounds a little inflated when we’re talking about, say, tipping well or just being polite to various strangers and service people. But niceness is kind, and it’s important.

That said, as I demonstrated this morning to the Jehovah’s Witness at my door, I’m not always nice. There are certain common exceptions to my policy of niceness. For example, like many people, I can be an impatient asshole behind the wheel of a car. If I’m on a two-lane road, and the person ahead of me is driving 10 miles below the speed limit and I cannot pass them due to the blind curves up ahead (this happens a lot in Sonoma County) I often honk my horn, especially if the road has a shoulder where they could easily pull aside to let me pass. At night, I’ll occasionally drive close behind the slowpoke with my brights on (and I might also honk).

I am not nice to phone solicitors. Here is how I handle them. I pick up the phone (I don’t have caller ID) and say, “Hello?” And the voice at the other end says, “Uh, I’m calling for Marc Polonsky.” I say, “That’s me.” The voice says, “Hello, Mr. Polonsky, my name is ______ and I’m calling from ______. How are you this evening, sir?” I say, “Don’t call back,” and I hang up. (It works. They don’t.)

There are also more specific exceptions to my niceness. Probably lots of them and I cannot even recall them all, nor would I enumerate them here if I could.

I’m not saying my (or anyone else’s) lack of courtesy is justified (or not justified). For now, I’m merely acknowledging it, in the context of having begun my day today by being distinctly discourteous, face to face, to someone.

Jehovah’s Witnesses have bugged me for years. I want to throw a bucket of water on them (or worse) when they come to my door in their Sunday best. Back when I lived in Oakland, I put a No Soliciting sign on my door and the JWs  rang the bell anyway. When I pointed to the sign, one of them said huffily, “We are not solicitors!” Oof.

But I understand that their motives are not so terrible really. They don’t want my money. They just want to rescue me from being tortured in Hell forever. I think part of what pisses me off about them is that they’re a little smug, at least in their existential view of things, so secure in their uncomplicated universe. Statistically speaking, at least some of them must be (forgive the term) blessed with native intelligence but (to my view) they don’t make a habit of using their brains, and that annoys me.

That said, the man at my door today was not uncomplicated. I don’t know the first thing about him, but I know this much: He had an intelligent face, a soft and gracious manner, and emotional sensitivity—his feelings were hurt when I spoke harshly and then abruptly shut the door in his face. If he came back again (which he won’t of course) I might take the time to debate religion with him, and question the fairness of the God to whom he devotes his Sunday mornings (and probably his life), this God who abandons so many souls to eternal anguish, and for what? I might probe his concept of sin. It might even be interesting.

Then again, maybe I could just ask him never to come back, but do it more politely, and he wouldn’t have to have his feelings hurt at this particular stop on his journey to the Lord’s kingdom.