January 14, 2011

An Anouncement :: An Apology

Near the end of my interview with Wendell Berry some time ago, we talked about facebook. The conversation started with farming, strip mining, local knowledge, topics you might expect with Wendell. It covered politics, civil disobedience, democracy, citizenship. And then we talked about facebook.

"I might have heard something of it," he said, but couldn't understand why someone would ever wish to spend so much time in front of a screen. How could you be a "friend" to another without sharing something tangible together, without having the chance to be useful to each other? I had no answers, and was sort of glad that I didn't.

"Wendell, you have facebook, you just don't know it." He laughed, and I explained how someone put up a fan page for people to post dashing comments about his life and work. I didn't bother mentioning the "Wendell Berry Haters Association," a group of probably high school students who apparently hate literature, the environment, social justice, and Wendell himself.

I asked Wendell if he was ever curious about what people say and write about him, if he might ever join something like facebook. He said no, and then I said, "Okay, deal. Me neither."

A year and a half later, here I am.

It's a dilemma; if the world was ever divided, it's now between facebook people and non-facebook people. Those who use it love it, though most I talk to quickly admit their enslavement to it and their desire to quit. Those who don't use it have a number of fine reasons: never heard of it, prefer real people, abstain as a form of protest, or just don't see it's value.

Wendell, if I may speak for him, would check all of the above. Instead of updating his status or "poking" people, he writes letters and visits with friends and family on the porch or around the fireplace. He takes walks, cooks with his wife, and visits his daughters winery a few miles down the road. And he works, a work tied to the people, community, and land that make his life possible. (Our conversation was cut short as the sun was setting and the lambs needed to be fed).

But I also made another promise, not to Wendell but to Judy Bonds and Larry Gibson in the mountains of West Virginia. I promised I wouldn't be just one more "journalist" who comes to snap a shot and scribble down a story. I promised I would do something more. This is what they asked of me, that their work--the struggles and accomplishments--would not be stuck in a folder someone but told to the world--printed in magazines, displayed on walls in galleries, talked about at conferences, shouted from mountaintops.

With the passing of inspiring leader and activist Judy Bonds last week, and with Larry's continued fight against mountaintop removal in West Virginia, this is least I can do to share with you their struggles. I don't know where things will go from here, but this is a start.

And Wendell, I'm sorry. Will you forgive me?

(If you feel so inclined, come "Like" the Radical Roots Project on Facebook, whatever that means).

1 comment:

  1. This post really hits me. "How could you be a "friend" to another without sharing something tangible together, without having the chance to be useful to each other?" That's an important question. I'm struggling with whether the answer is to completely avoid screens, as Mr. Berry says. As someone who has made very tangible friendships, which ultimately involved joining in community, as a result of a post on the Wendell Berry Society on facebook, I can see the value of it (in the most incredible way). On the other hand, it's impossible to deny the ways that "virtual communities" are at odds with the real thing. For now, I'm thinking this is just on of many post-modern tensions we're going to have to work through. peace.