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Observe fearlessly. Our lives and our world are filled with beauty, horror, and evolutionary complexities. A neighbor’s yard becomes overgrown (much to everyone’s annoyance), and it becomes known that a spouse has become gravely ill. At the onset of the Arab Spring, Facebook proudly explained they were an integral part of the Arab Spring, and under later analysis that claim was verified as accurate, especially as spreading images of government brutality, alerting others when marches were being held, and spreading information regarding the cause. (So, Was Facebook Responsible for the Arab Spring After All?, Rebecca J. Rosen, theatlantic.com, Sept. 3, 2011) However, the Arab Spring evolved into the dark, Arab Winter. Facebook was also directly part of Russia being able to interfere with our presidential elections as well as the spreading of fake news on multiple topics. When one observes fearlessly, good and bad and the truth slide all around, turning lazy homeowners into loving spouses and technologies claiming heroism to being a partner to Russia’s meddling in our presidential race. When one observes fearlessly, their personal as well as the public, political, and cultural commons that surround them lose their hard angles and become like water—difficult to grasp or pin down (is Facebook a public good or bad or both) (I use Facebook to tell people to question Facebook). However, it is at that very moment when there is no solid good or bad that one can truly begin to get close to reality.
Joan Didion is an American author who epitomizes the idea of observing fearlessly. She had the nerve to see the dark side of the sixties hippie movement; she encountered a country that was falling apart from the inside out. Horror, chaos, and social collapse were happening at the ground level when she intimately interviewed and witnessed first-hand the Haight Ashbury phenomenon in San Francisco (where high ideals and seductive images of a hope-filled youth culture rose to the top). She stared at her own profound grief with unflinching honesty with her husband and her only child dying in the same year. Netflix has just released a new movie entitled Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold. It is an amazing movie that will inspire you to take your mind out for a good scrub and polish and then look at yourself, your life, and the world again. The movie has a large intimacy to it, as it was made by her nephew, Griffin Dunne. However, instead of it feeling somewhat awkward or voyeuristic—like watching a stranger’s family movies—it brings you very close to Joan’s sensibilities as a writer in that she draws from both her personal life right along with her broader encounter with the world at large. She saw the universal in the small painful moments of day to day living and saw the intimacy of human experience as she witnessed with horror the civil war in El Salvador. Noting that when she visited a morgue as a journalist, she had to adjust her psyche in order not to freak out. Likewise, she observed while living in El Salvador to cover the civil war that the entire nation was having to make that very same adjustment to survive their brutally violent world.
Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold is a movie that will show another way to be—a way filled with questioning, investigation, and recording in an effort to tease out how you genuinely feel and understand either a personal tragedy or a world tragedy. I found myself wanting to wake up a bit more—wanting to look at my personal life and the world around me with a total, terrifying, openness.