There is an outside chance, perhaps 30%, that I have already accomplished my greatest contribution on this planet. Perhaps there is something about being an American that makes us believe such things deep into our 40s, and thusly I am deluded. Whatever the figure, I recognize the inclination I have to elide a number of things I know when speaking. I know more that I say and I don't mind it so long as I say the most important things to say, which are often more humble and encouraging than anything else. There aren't many occasions when I wish to impress people, and my passions are my own.
It is in recognition of such things that I approach my 48th birthday with another sense of generosity - that of curating some aspect of my experience I think ought to be worth something. So I've been thinking that we all ought to know something extraordinarily well. Not that that something needs to be important, but just that we stay close to it for a long enough time to know it gets translated well into the next generation. I don't know how long ago it was when I first thought of this, but the fact that Tantalum is element 73 and the Iranians have been purchasing it for making capacitors with military applications reminded me. How many times do we know the periodic table without really knowing something extraordinary about one of the elements. What are there 210? 210 people could make that their life - to know all there is to know about their element. 67 is one of my favorite numbers, that would make me the curator of Holmium, I guess. Like the old woman from Airplane who pops up and says 'I speak jive', there might come a moment when we have something to say.
If I might take a detour to be the critic while I'm at the humble task, I would jab my neighbors in their intemollectual ambitions. There's something wrong about the shotgun morality of Considering All Things that has as its terminus the adopted program... I mean you have to be convinced that there is something essentially wrong with the world to become a moral crusader, but you have to be convinced that most things are wrong with the world to be generally supportive of moral crusaders. And that is the question begged by someone to takes an abstract approach to knowing moral things, which is the opposite of knowing a few or one thing very well and waiting for your turn to pop up and speak your perfectly inflected jive. Anyway enough of that.
The thing that hits me today is before I created it, there was no Wikipedia entry for Owen Brown, the third son of John Brown who died here in Southern California. It was 10 years ago last month when I visited his gravesite in Altadena on a spot called Little Rountop. At the time, I was fairly deep into my anti-racist activism and made the rather cornball decision to hang with whichever homies showed up for John Brown Day. It was one of those moments when I felt old, but not quite old enough. Which is to say a lot of things, none of them well. I'll explain it better later. The bottom line is that I feel drawn to preserve various arcana about Owen Brown due to that trip which meant quite a bit to me at the time, and now again in retrospect.
You see the big deal was that I had read Cloudsplitter and that book, like few others before, rocked my world. Reading about the life of John Brown from the perspective of author Russell Banks using the voice of Owen Brown forever altered my presentism on the issue of race. As you are probably well aware, there is a theory that people in today's America are better judges of matters of race than were those of our earlier history, and without the input of any number of non-whites, whites were inherently incapable of understanding the depth of their own racial depravity. It is this particular fiction that keeps any number of Americans in thrall to the sorts of declarations that roll off the chin of anyone a hair darker than George Hamilton. Because minorities have empathy. As if the very word originated in the original Ibo and didn't have an English equivalent until the importation of slaves to Virginia.
At any rate beside the bohemian dingbat quality of Postfun's fetish of Race Treason, which at the time I thought profound, I did have an excellent and transcendent moment at Owen Brown's grave. How could I know Tim Wise would go so..tangential? And while I no longer live in Altadena nor subscribe to ideas for the improvement of either black or white races, I have a special fondness for the place feeling some responsibility as an archivist of that moment, and of the disposition of the memorial. So it comes as something of a surprise to me, now that I am one of the GPS class, that some various legal battles regarding access to Little Roundtop have scored one for the good guys.
As a consequence, I will make it my business to curate some fraction of Owen Brown's life and keep some Google Bots trolling the news for any mention of his name. Further, I will make available some collection of digital artifacts.