Only the nose knows?

Although I generally don’t follow sports, I enjoy listening to Frank Deford, NPR’s sports commentator: his reports are witty and usually go beyond the stats to the personalities in the sports world (no doubt to appeal to the non-sports fans who listen to NPR). This morning’s comments on Tiger Woods and the cult of celebrity that has now enveloped the sports world was no exception.

And perhaps because I’m swimming in nearly 100 final research papers to grade, I giggled at this:

“To quote the young poet Muhammad Ali…: ‘Only the nose knows where the nose goes when the door[s] close.'”

How charming is Ali’s poem: the idea that anyone wants their private lives to remain private in the age of full self-disclosure and public confession (via Twitter, Facebook, blogging) is so– quaint.  But of course, still true. Even those of us self disclosing away on the Internet do so, usually,  in a carefully crafted way so that we are creating a public persona–certainly not our real inner selves.  I’m sure none of us would want our private text messages revealed to all (and of course Tiger’s women saved his texts: they were from the famous Woods!). But enough about Tiger.

William Deresiewicz has written several articles on this theme: his Chronicle articles are long (over 5000 words–longer than most) and historically grounded.  This term, I encouraged my composition students to read and respond to “The End of Solitude” (in an early January edition of The Chronicle of Higher Ed) and those that chose it wrote wonderfully rich responses: while their initial instinct was to criticize what they perceived to be an attack on their generation, they soon conceded, as Deresiewicz himself does, to his claim that being alone is fine, but for more than an hour without checking some electronic device,  not so much.

His most recent article in the Dec. 6th edition of The Chronicle, “Faux Friendship”  ponders the changing definition of friendship over the centuries, naturally in response to the dozens or hundreds of friends many of us collect on FB or Twitter.

Deresiewicz has much to say about the faux friendships formed on FB. About those FB “friends” you haven’t been in contact with for 20 years:

“Your 18-year-old self knows them. Your 40-year-old self should not know them.”

So true. At first it is amusing exchanging anecdotes, but then, you realize that your old “friend” has become a ________ (fill in the blank), whose status updates cause you physical pain.  Let’s say I’ve use the “hide” and “de-friend” function regularly on FB.

About the inability to form true friendship in 140 character informational blips:

“In order to know people, you have to listen to their stories….Posting information is like pornography, a slick, impersonal exhibition. Exchanging stories is like making love: probing, questing, questioning, caressing. It is mutual. It is intimate. It takes patience, devotion, sensitivity, subtlety, skill—and it teaches them all, too.”

While I appreciate the “storytelling as making love” metaphor, I’m not so sure about the pornography metaphor: Really?  Does that mean those who Tweet or post updates on FB are all exhibitionists? And that those who read such postings are getting some sort of physical pleasure out of doing so?  Hmmmm, no.

But I get his point. FB, Twitter, Blogging: all allow us to feel connected with others, but we shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking such connections are real friendship.  They are, he would argue, too EASY to be real.  A real, lasting friendship is complex, messy, often rife with conflict.  And it requires some real physicality (and here, I suppose, the pornography metaphor does work).  I see my good friends from college only once a year, if that.  Even though I’m aware of what they do throughout the year. But it’s only in that physical meeting that we reconnect emotionally.  Old angers come out. Past shared laughter is reignited.  It’s momentary, but it lasts for weeks, and the flame of that true connection stays lit, though dim, until the next time.

Such a long-term, long distance  friendship is a different sort of friendship than the friendships I have with those who live near me.  And that’s what Facebook, e-mail, etc etc IS good for. It allows my friends and I to mimic the daily interactions I have with friends nearby (what are you doing now? how was the food at that new place? did that student bug you again today?).  We certainly do have fact-based, informational status updates with friends in person: it’s the shared daily-ness that is a big part of our friendship.  I know what latte so and so wants from Starbucks, and I know about the broken water pipe in so and so’s house, and the annoying thing so and so’s mother said to her last week. That’s something my students who were responding to Deresiewicz tried to express in their responses to his essay.  Yes, perhaps a faux friendship is only based on status updates, but a real friendship has them, too.  FB, Twitter, Texting all allow us to keep that part of friendship in tact when distance separates us.

[Note: I’ve only recently discovered that there was, many, many moons ago, a bloggosphere conversation about cooked and raw blog postings, a conversation I will resurrect on this raw blog someday since I hate that I missed it at the time.  This post, is, by dint of being a break from finals grading, half cooked.]

4 responses to “Only the nose knows?

  1. Oh, don’t think too hard, esp. if you’re not done with the term yet. We all went out for wine tasting tonight despite another day of finals: I’m thinking that wasn’t the wisest move. Not only did we imbibe, we all thought too much. (And the roundtable discussion: discuss one awesome student you had this term–no complaining.)

    But really, no complaining? With wine?

  2. I disagree on your interpretation of the meaning of the Muhammad Ali quote…: ‘Only the nose knows where the nose goes when the door[s] close.’” I believe what he was trying to convey with this was his work ethic, his commitment to excellence, and the hard work required and done behind closed doors to be great, to win, to dominate in the boxing ring and in fact, to be great at anything. He was saying only those who are the greatest at what they do know of the sacrifices, discipline and commitment required to reach greatness. Its a beautiful quote.

  3. Following on from my comment immediately above, Ali also said “The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.” Here he says the same thing as with the “nose” quote, just in a different way.

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