So I decided to give Anthony a break from pouring out his deepest darkest stories and inspiring the crap out of us all to try my hand at being way too vulnerable for people I barely know online. Just kidding you’re all better friends to me than my real life friends cause #2018SocialLife amirite?
Recently we had an admin get-together to talk about how we welcome people to the group, how we approve or deny posts, and various other Facebook admining tasks, but strangely enough, as I’ve grown to expect with the D’Ambros, we didn’t start there at all. We talked about moments. Moments when the community was at its best and touched us most deeply… moments when we felt a spiritual tribe… moments we felt alive and fully ourselves. At the time, I told a story about when I took the bull by the horns and decided to lead the DFW Meetup… as a way to sort of strong-arm my way into bribing people to learn the kinds of skills an Aerospace Engineer might bring to a bunch of artists and videographers and apparently even hairdressers. In the moment that I felt that tinge of insecurity that I was trying to fit my square peg into the triangular hole, the community responded, showed up, enjoyed themselves, and spent the wee hours of the morning drinking on my back porch asking way too personal of questions and bonding in ways people who just met IRL for the first time mere hours ago shouldn’t normally bond. People drove from all directions and some even flew across the country to find their place in this tribe. Every room in my house was completely full of new friends crashing overnight so they could drive the 5, 6, 7 hours home or catch their flight the next day. DANG. Even if I knew that it wasn’t me or my Lockheed tour offer or my engineering design methodology powerpoint that made them come, I was a part of something so much bigger than I realized… and I wanted to keep trying to facilitate and support and play my role in this movement… this renaissance… however I possibly could.
If you don’t know me, you may not know that I’m the guy who typically learns lessons the hard way once or twice before anything really sticks… and as one of the first generations to begin to grow up with this new internet thing I learned ALL the lessons about internet use the hard way. I even got my account banned in middle school when I thought researching online was as simple as visiting whateveryourewantingtolearnmoreabout.com because disney.com and espn.com and all those things worked! Why wouldn’t blackholes.com work when I was doing my 7th grade science report?! (Spoiler alert: it was much more graphic back then than it is now). So we join the story again in my early days of high school. I had a collection of AOL free trial CDs on my wall and my AIM profile was my key to social interaction as QuinnyJ or CrazyCloudMeteu or who knows whatever other dorky names I made for myself when I needed to start over and redefine my friends every few months.
I was in an advanced placement English class learning about poetry and the teacher encouraged us to find a topic that we were passionate about for our poetry writing assignment. I couldn’t think of any words that rhymed with NASA so I decided that I was a high schooler now and I needed to be more of an adult in my faith and write something to share morality. You see, my high school was undergoing this strange phase of suicide-envy. One of the kids in the grade below me committed suicide and it rocked the school pretty bad… people wearing pins and dedicating yearbook pages to memorialize the guy… he was really loved by a lot of people. I didn’t know him very well but it seemed like everyone I knew was friends with him.
Not long after, a female student at the school committed suicide, and then about the same amount of time later, another male committed suicide. It was becoming an epidemic and rumor was that there was some sort of secret group that all decided to stick it to the man and kill themselves one by one until none of them were left to graduate. This was incomprehensible to me and it really shook me that kids my age would feel this way about their lives… that they wouldn’t understand their value or see that they were loved enough to want to stick around or who knows why they were doing this… but it was clearly a pattern and I had to do what I could to help stop it! I know my Catholic faith says that life is sacred and I need to use this poetry assignment to make a statement to the class that suicide isn’t the answer. I painted the words into a story of a dystopian society called Suicide City where everyone was killing themselves, of course seeing myself as the next [insert famous poet name here] that was going to use my art to reshape minds.
The first half of the poem was pretty hard-truthy and the second half was uplifting. We had peer reviews before the assignment was to be turned in and a friend of mine reviewed my poem and said to me (before it was cool or even a thing, mind you) “Dude… this is really good! You need to share this online so people can see it and spread it!” This was my first lesson in “going viral” and my last attempt at poetry. You see, we didn’t have Facebook or even really Myspace yet… we had AIM profiles. Character limited profiles that didn’t always warn you when what you thought you typed in was what it accepted. So I put it on my profile and only about the first half of the poem posted. Within hours I was magically getting messages from screen names I didn’t recognize with all sorts of death threats and accusations. I was disrespecting their dead friends, I was somehow indirectly telling these grieving people that their perfect deceased friends were in hell and I shouldn’t be talking about suicide in any negative light. I turned off the computer assuming it would just fade away and be forgotten. Of course not, J.P. This is high school. I walked into school with evil glares and print-outs of my poem on the floor with James Quinn attached to it (they had to look up who QuinnyJ could be and the yearbook said James). I was a bit freaked out but there was nothing I could do. Lunch rolls around and a guy comes up behind me with his posse of angry kids, tapping my shoulder asking if I’m James Quinn. I asked him why he wanted to know and he told me something to the effect of, “Because James Quinn is gonna die for what he said about my friend”. I had a teacher friend sitting at the table across the cafeteria who noticed a potential altercation and quickly came to clear it up. I tried to continue eating my lunchable pizza but as soon as it had all gone back to normal, he came back with a bigger group of friends and went on some sort of tirade I’ve since blocked from my nightmares about how he was going to make me pay for what I said about his dead friends. The teacher saw what was happening and decided this time to remove me from the situation to stop the threepeat.
I went and sat in the counselor's office while they pulled in each of the people from the posse to investigate why they were upset at me. The counselor put the piece of paper in front of me, with a few fierce lines highlighted asking if this was my work. I told them the story of my english assignment and my AIM profile and they told me that it was safer if I went home for the last 3 days of the semester because these kids were serious. I could come in before school to take my last exams and we’d just hope over the break that people would move on. The principal walked me to my car as some sort of bodyguard and I started driving home. My friend who recommended I post this poetry assignment got on AIM later that night to warn me that he overheard stories that these kids had plans to come burn my house down. I was freaked out so I stayed up all night hiding in the window of our game room watching the front of my house, clutching the key fob of my dad’s Honda CRV thinking if they showed up that I would use the lock or alarm to scare them away. They showed up. I scared them away. We reported it to the police who could do nothing because it was all still very much the wild wild west trying to link AIM profiles to real people, but I spent the rest of my high school days feeling very isolated, paranoid, and silenced. I didn’t know who I could trust, and I continuously got reminders and threats year after year that they hadn’t forgotten what I had done. At one point months later, they chased me through the record store of the mall with a knife. These people were psychos.
So why do I tell our community (and probably, with my luck, the world since I’ve learned how unpredictable these internet postings can be) this strange story from my teenage years? Anthony’s done a great job of sharing the parts of his past and how its formed his outlook on life, how it’s helped form this amazing online community, and how it’s impacting the direction and desires we’re trying to set for this community’s future. Anthony also went to high school with me and has told me he only vaguely knows of this happening. We weren’t really friends or part of the same friend groups––strange how life weaves paths sometimes, eh? Nevertheless this story has been a large part of who I am and how I interact online. I’ve learned to be meticulous sometimes and I’ve been forced to re-examine every word I put out there to try to be as cognizant of how it might be taken or construed in any possible context as a self-defense mechanism. A big part of that CC DFW meetup was about risk identification and mitigation, which was a big part of my time designing at Harley in my day job before I got to Lockheed where again I seem to latch to process improvements and design changes that prevent unforeseen consequences. I aim to write to be direct and (most of the time, yes even on Facebook) have very intentionally crafted words. It seriously pains me when I see someone write something flippantly and not realize they probably just offended a group of people. I take offense for others when they probably wouldn’t take offense themselves because I want to believe the person writing it didn’t mean to say what they said the way they said it and I want them to see how it could be taken in an effort to somehow prevent what happened to me from ever happening to anyone again. I’ve looked through comments in some of our more heated anime icon type discussions and just poured over them to find the right words to convince people to act like the community I see this as, instead of playing the typical internet card and shutting out people that are wrong because they need the tough love that, let’s be honest, the internet just is never going to effectively provide. I get so lost trying to figure out how to admin these conversations, how to approve post suggestions that might be controversial… if I delete something am I censoring a valid opinion even if it might offend someone else and be written in poor taste? What standards am I supposed to hold others to if we as an admin group still haven’t been able to agree on expectations for conversation ourselves enough to post some sort of rules or guidelines?
Sometimes I wish I could just give up Facebook and social media because it’s so bad at doing what it's meant to do… but I can’t just run away from my fears or from my opportunity to set an example of what this is all supposed to be. If you’re friends with me, you’ll know half of what I post is just funny memes, photos from my ridiculous world travels, or cool science links anyways. At the heart of social media, I see it as a driving force to connect, discuss, and share love. Show people your life, celebrate with them, ask them for help, figure out how to feel about things, keep up with what’s going on in a world where it’s apparently weird to actually talk on the telephone. The core of Catholic Creatives was never meant to live wholly online… we humanize and experience connections in person at meetups and at summits and at random airshows where you run into Jacob Popčak.
But we can’t neglect or deny the potential for good that can come from Facebook. Despite it being 99% of how we interact, this Facebook group does not define who we are.It is still however an invaluable tool and I’m convinced we can use it to achieve our goals. If there was no Facebook group, I’d have no way to tell the random Canadian radio producer and Canadian priest that I met in Israel that they were both very Catholic and very Creative and needed to join our community. Without Facebook, said priest wouldn’t have been able to join and browse the members within 2 minutes of my invite to realize he knew several people already in the group and feel he might agree with my assessment of his need to join. (#CCCanadaMeetup anyone??)
So you’ll notice Anthony’s last blog didn’t have the golden solution to anything about our identity as Catholic Creatives and my blog post isn’t going to solve, once and for all, how we’re all supposed to use Facebook to build a genuine tribe of creatives seeking to spread truth and beauty through our random menagerie of gifts. I think we do a lot of things right––sharing our creations and hobbies, connecting with opportunities and needs, sharing our wounds in hopes that our stories can weave themselves into a beautiful expression of living art somehow––and I think we can do a lot of things better, e.g.growing while maintaining personal connections, reminding ourselves to humanize the name we don’t know who just threw down an unpopular opinion, and supporting others even when our business sense or artistic knowledge tells us we could have done it better ourselves.
How do we utilize this gift of online connection for the good we seek? How do we unite despite our distance and our inability to actually make friends with everyone who wants to contribute to our mission? If we’re going to solve these things and be the difference on Facebook… we’re going to solve it together. Thanks for being a part of this tribe and giving me and countless others a place to find purpose and belonging. Let’s sharpen this iron together so we may find our crossed paths taking us to the eternal reward we all seek so deeply.
-J.P. "QuinnyJ" "jptheaggie" Quinn