Claremont Insider: The Ring of Dance

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Ring of Dance

The news that Meg Worley and Kevin Lahey, the Pomona couple that started a blog called M-M-M-My Pomona (they lost one "M-" early on), have moved from the area left us feeling a little glum, as if we'd lost a friend.  Worley and Lahey have moved on to bigger and better things up in San Jose.  We wish them the best in their new endeavors, but we'll sorely miss the fresh voice and crisp writing Meg brought to the table.

We read of this departure in David Allen's Daily Bulletin column and in Allen's own blog, where Allen touched on the evanescence of life in the digital age:
M-M-M-My Pomona offered a window into the Lincoln Park neighborhood and the wider world of Pomona, especially in the blog's earlier days. Many of the community of blogs in Pomona have gone dormant; the form seems to have peaked in 2009 or 2010.

It's a little strange to think of something as new as blogging as having already fallen out of favor, but that's the way the changing media landscape bounces. The form still seems to have a lot of untapped potential locally.

In his column, Allen wrote that Pomona has a fairly lively blogging world compared to surrounding areas:
In 2010, the Pomona bloggers had their own float in the Christmas Parade, riding together on a flatbed truck, carrying laptops and waving to children. Now that's influence. (Which I can say, as a former grand marshal.)

Contrary to Pomona's reputation as a backwards, disconnected place, the city has been a hotbed of blogging, with up to a dozen active blogs commenting on local affairs from personal perspectives and linking to each other.

To my knowledge Claremont has only one community blog, and if Upland, Rancho Cucamonga or Chino have any, they're certainly quiet about it.

Actually, besides the Insider, Claremont does have Life in Claremont, which is the domain of Charlotte Van Ryswyk, a violin and viola teacher and the music specialist at Vista del Valle Elementary School.  Life in Claremont is extremely well-written, has a unique voice, and offers a little of everything: books, music, food, and, as the title promises, day-to-day life in our humble burg.  And a few new Claremont-oriented blogs pop up now and again and then pass away quicker than mayflies.

Still, compared to Pomona, our blogging scene is pretty barren.  Allen's article nailed the difference between Claremont and Pomona, and it may account for the lack of blogs here.  The blog form is a pretty egalitarian one, and Claremont tends more towards elitism.  Here's what Allen wrote in his M-M-M-My Pomona article:
"I think it's significant and telling that Pomona has a lot more community blogs than Claremont," Worley told me. "It's not just population. It's a different style of community engagement."

In Claremont, there's a social and political hierarchy. How long you've lived there and who you know matters.

Pomona, by contrast, has an improvisatory nature. With a thin layer of government, and civic competence sometimes in short supply, people have to find their own solutions. It's like "The Little House on the Prairie," but with Mexican food.

Perhaps it's that very egalitarianism inherent in a blog that appealed to us Insiders in the first place.  So much of one's experience of Claremont's high society is exclusionary, and a blog bypasses that quite neatly.  We can all have a voice, not just a select few.

* * * * *

Allen, by the way, had a couple columns, one in June and a follow-up in July, that discussed how Claremonters view themselves compared to how people from our neigboring cities often see us, as this from Allen's July 14 column shows: 
"I can give you a great example of the `friendly' people of Claremont," said Bob Terry, proceeding to relate an anecdote about a mixer in Claremont some three years ago for several area chambers of commerce.

Terry said one of his fellow Rancho Cucamonga Chamber officials briefly placed fliers on the Claremont Chamber's table while looking for a chair. The women at the Claremont table picked up the offending papers and dropped them on the floor like they were toxic waste.

Nope, we can't allow any mixing at a mixer.

"That is just one of many `friendly' encounters we have had over the years with the Claremont Chamber," Terry added.

Allen's June 25 column indicated that at least one Chamber representative seemed surprised to hear of a lack of unanimity concerning the town's general wonderfulness:
"Do you think Claremont is snooty?" [Claremont Chamber member Susan] Brunasso asked me, honestly curious.

"Of course," I replied.

As Claremont's ambassador, Brunasso should try asking that question in Montclair or Pomona - and brace herself for the response.

Claremonters' sense of superiority rubs people the wrong way, I explained.

There's a thin line between thinking your town is a great place to live and thinking it's the only place to live, we agreed.

"There's a pride here that can be taken for arrogance," Brunasso acknowledged.

It's really more than arrogance, though.  It's a profound lack of awareness, a lack of empathy, that blinds certain people, the ones termed the Claremont 400 (a phrase we co-opted long ago), to the perception of Claremont through the eyes of outsiders.  It's an unawareness that underlies a certain willingness to bend the truth, sometimes beyond all recognition.

Back in the Claremont 400's heyday, an issue would come up, and the 400 would spin it however they wished.  If you were on the other side of an issue, it took a huge effort to counter the spin because few people bothered to look deeper into what the 400 were saying.  Think of the City Council election this past March.  In the past, the 400 candidates could get up at a forum and spout whatever foolishness they wanted and not get called on it.  A blog makes it much easier to point out the deeper truths.

In days gone by, every election, every hot-button issue, would bring to light some little lie here, some untruth there, that would go uncorrected and, with the Claremont Courier or Daily Bulletin as unwitting conduits, become incorporated into the city's accepted wisdom.  A blog makes for the perfect place to shine a little light on precisely those things our town fathers and mothers would prefer remain hidden.

More than anything else, a blog levels the playing field.  It's a great tool for democratizing the information stream.  No one person or group should get to serve as the Great Information Filter, deciding what gets released and what truth is too inconvenient to be heard.  As Kevin Costner's Crash Davis says to Susan Sarandon's Annie at early on in the movie Bull Durham, "Why do you get to choose?  Why don't I get to choose?"

Don't we all have some valuable bit of information to contribute to the civic conversation?  It's just a matter of speaking up.

This line of thinking brought to mind Denise Levertov's poem "Caedmon," which tells the story of the first English poet.  Caedmon was an illiterate herdsman at a monastery who hid one night because, inarticulate and uneducated, he was ashamed that he wasn't able to join in singing with the learned monks. Then, in a dream, a figure appeared and commanded Caedmon to sing of the Creation:
All others talked as if
talk were a dance.
Clodhopper I, with clumsy feet
would break the gliding ring.

the sudden angel affrighted me—light effacing
my feeble beam,
a forest of torches, feathers of flame, sparks upflying:   
but the cows as before
were calm, and nothing was burning,
             nothing but I, as that hand of fire   
touched my lips and scorched my tongue   
and pulled my voice
                     into the ring of the dance.

* * * * *

Here in Claremont a certain segment of the population takes pride in our civic participation; yet, in reality a small number of people - not 400, more like 40 or 50 - get an idea (think Claremont Trolley) and the idea propagates out into the community through our various volunteer organizations, through letters to the local newspapers, and through City Hall until we forget what silly notion propelled the system into motion in the first place. 

There's no reason why these few and no one else should get to choose what course we take on any matter.  Why do they get to choose?  We just need more people to get involved instead of sitting at home and complaining when they disagree with some local policy or project after the fact.

So, whomever you are, whichever angel or muse moves you, stop your texting, put that remote or that game controller down, and step up.  Add your voice to the dissonant chorus that democracy is supposed to be.  Otherwise, you cede the decision-making to bullies from all parts of the political spectrum.  And then you have to live with the consequences.