They seek splendor; who would touch them must stun them;
The nerve that is dying needs thunder to rouse it.
William Everson, San Joaquin (1939)
About 12 years ago I was part of a Los Angeles venture capital funding event called “Herring on Hollywood”, where Red Herring Magazine featured a number of companies that would “change the face of Hollywood”. Altamira Group, which I founded, was one of those. It was the classic VC hustle, mixing people seeking funds and venture capitalists seeking companies in which to invest. A small number of companies were selected to make presentations to the general audience. At one point, a young guy with a spiky haircut and baggy jeans came on stage and described his company, which in retrospect I remember only being about distributing video content on the web. But his extraordinary hyperbole was wrapped in the guise of “gangsta” lingo. He used profanity at every possible moment and referred to his product as the “crack cocaine of media.” At the finish of this inane presentation, he turned to a leather-clad woman standing on the side of the stage, snapped his fingers and said, “Come on, bitch!” The two of them stomped out.
Appalled at this demonstration, I was surprised to see people in the audience nodding with interest and approval. In the reception afterwards, the venture capitals funders crowded around him – he had the most activity of any of the other companies, despite the fact that the man had no proprietary technology or ideas, just his rap. I remember watching this astonishing thing and the words of Everson immediately came to mind – “The nerve that is dying needs thunder to rouse it.”
William Everson (September 10, 1912 – June 3, 1994), also known as Brother Antoninus, was both an American poet and, for a time, a Dominican monk. His words have moved me greatly over the years, none more than this quote from his 1939 poem San Joaquin.
What is clear is that the nerve of our world is dying. We are assaulted by so much input that those that would touch us must stun us.
We must learn again to listen. We can, if we ignore the clarion calls of advertisers who entice us to buy one more thing which we do not need and do not even want. We must ignore the strident voices of those who try to convince us that their particular brand of absurdity is important and that we should ignore our own good reasoning and follow them. We should ignore those who try to instill fear into our lives so that they can project themselves as our saviors and act in our good names. We should ignore those who condemn others for being different than ourselves and therefore somehow threatening.
Ignore the voices that cry out that we need more when we actually need better.
Just shut them out for a short period of time. Turn off the television. Don’t read the newspapers. Ignore the voices that scream out for your sanity. Just for awhile. Listen to something else.
We need to inject some calm into our fevered lives and use the season of peace to evaluate where we are as individuals and as a society. We should sit in a quiet church and contemplate. Go to the desert and watch a sunrise. Walk in the woods and listen to the harmonies of birds as they create their dense, intricate fabric of song. Sit by the ocean, a river, a pond, or a lake and watch the light move on the rippling surface of the waters. Or perhaps just sit in our homes and stare at the movement of flames in the fireplace.
And then we should do it again, with a loved one.
We should still the frenzy.