Dear Jeremy and Ayla,
The internet is a funny thing–at once it is the most powerful information tool ever created by human beings and on the other hand it is the repository of a great wealth of cats and misspellings (which are a type of information, I suppose). Recently I’ve been looking at my digital footprint and trying to come to grips with what I’ve been putting on the internet for some time. In reality, I’m probably among the first in history, the first generation, to have a digital footprint of their twenties. The digital footprint is a record of what you’ve put out on the internet either passively or actively, and like your reflection in a mirror, sometimes you can perseverate on tiny blemishes nobody else sees and lose yourself in the greater context.
My own children will someday have an inescapable public record of their own–one that is already being curated on Facebook and on this website in terms of photographs and letters I address to them as blogs and so forth. But the ongoing open time capsule of the early 2000s to today reads as an open book of my progress on a number of fronts that I often look at. Some times I wonder what it will look like from a significant temporal distance from today.
I live my life, in general, with as little regret as possible. When I’ve caused people undue pain, embarrassment, emotional strain, or anguish that is something I regret–even if it was momentary, passing, unmemorable, or ultimately without consequence. Its impossible to live without regrets; but in terms of wishing I could re-write my past actions, that’s a fruitless endeavor.Regret and hate are the two heaviest things in the universe, and they don’t make you stronger. Better to come to terms with your actions, redress yourself, and move forward better than before. Every day, each success or failure, every mistake and triumph is a piece of the story that is moving me forward. I like to think that my mistakes have been minor, ultimately, and have helped to define myself as a shadow defines an object, my regrets a small price to pay for pain I won’t cause to myself or others.
Absorbing regret however doesn’t mean that I live without embarrassment and certainly doesn’t preclude the idea of playing out alternate scenarios; nor does it mean that I am entirely proud of everything I’ve done. These are natural, emotional and mental motions; I just prefer not to dwell on them unproductively. This includes not only personal choices but creative ones. For better or worse they are there, and serve as vantage point for personal and professional growth.
There was a time in my late teens and early twenties when, among other things, my self-esteem was not as it is today. Nor was my sense of self or my level of sensitivity. My ability to understand myself or my opinions, and voice those understandings in principled ways was not as it is today–nor do I expect my ability to do so now be greater than it will be tomorrow. As an educator I know that all people, myself included are works in progress. Looking back on that digital footprint serves as a strong reminder of that, and allows me to have perspective on my growth, and to be comfortable with where I am and where I’m going…by knowing when I haven’t been.
In my early 20’s I was a a video editor in projects were there was a great deal of insensitivity in the sect of the culture the project initially intended to document. Almost from start, I became as much an editing tool as the software we were using, with only minor concessions on things like color or transition effect falling into my bailiwick. It is difficult to work in teams, and even harder to assert yourself when you have yet to become comfortable with your worldviews–moreso when they are in contrast to those of your peers, and when you don’t socially feel like you have the upperhand. This is a reflection of where I was in life–insecure in my own positions, throttled by peer pressure, and unassertive. The moments where rather than documenting things, the videos run with bad messages sting my sensibilities to this day. They are sharp reminders of when I didn’t speak out, or in some cases took part in decisions to offend people for no apparent reason. My discomfort wasn’t even easy to come to terms with internally; I was in a different place developmentally, emotionally, and mentally. I know your Mother certainly put up with that stupidity for a brief amount of time that was more than long enough–and she certainly doesn’t let me forget it–as well she shouldn’t. She was quick to tell me not to involve myself in things back then and I couldn’t see that they were pointless. I couldn’t see I was in a different place entirely, I was swept up in being needed for something creative. There were times I was so consumed with that idiocy that I neglected her entirely, a wound which remains open and salted to this day. That is a regret worth carrying. In the end though, I’m glad that I have the experience of knowing exactly what it is to lack creative control, or to be faced with something makes you uncomfortable, and to muster up the self-assurance to step away and take your name with you–even if it only has value to you.
This is why it is so important that children born in the digital age–digital natives, they call you–are careful of their digital footprint from early on. Its an uphill battle in Middle Schools, High Schools, and even college. Your words can follow you for a long time–luckily my words do. None have been included in the series. In reality, I wasn’t present for the majority of the gathering, planning, or creation of the items that I find offensive. For better or worse, they exist as a toenail clipping on my overall digital footprint, a minor footnote in my body of work, and I quickly moved from them as I developed my voice and found my mission.
As I began my academic pursuits in earnest, and went from cataloguing underground hip-hop to the American Urban experience in my undergraduate studies, I become increasingly empowered by my education and by my life choices. With the help of your mother especially, I became a stronger self. Over time I distanced myself from projects from which I had no control, and learned how to catalogue truth without rolling with it; how to discuss prejudice without partaking in it. Soon, I became comfortable with my body of work…and my body of work became more representative of my world view–even as it continued to evolve, sophisticate, and develop. Over time I became more assertive about my control over creativity…but I never forgot that feeling of peer pressure and immaturity.
As I began to develop my own voice, I began to flesh out my opinions. The spectrum of my work grew, my level of education grew, my sense of self and purpose in the world grew. I can no longer see myself heckling unsuspecting people for no good reason–not even in YouTube comments. I’d hate myself if I came across me in the midst of those actions now, and I’d certainly have more than a disappointed word or two with my children.
As I travel further along my digital footprint I start to see different things crop up. I slowly started to make a transition from being an immature, unconfident, addicted, would-be musician and video editor and started becoming a personally successful writer (if not monetarily successful); healthy, vice free, principled, raising children to be more self-confident than I was. It is especially important to see that my children have the sense of self and sense of confidence to know their opinions and principles and stand behind them. I see my development as a writer, and as I sharpen my political voice. My first Letters to Jeremy were rants: foul mouthed and undisciplined. As I’ve continued to grow, and practice I’ve found ways to be comfortable with different purposes for my self-expression…and that was the key.
My own body of work has become, I think, more reflective on my standpoints. I have also written a great body of work that demands and commands respect for all people. I have written about educational equality, marriage equality, racial equality–or the lack there of. I have written about literature, films, music, and gaming. I’ve written about American culture, my mixed heritage, and those intersections; perhaps most importantly, I’ve been writing these letters to my children. My written and spoken words have compiled more volumes of pride than any footnote of regret can counterweight.
Especially having come from two school programs who tout a history of social justice; especially as I work to become an advocate for students from all contexts, I know that the spectrum of my personal development and assertiveness is easily traced by a Google search. In many ways, it is humbling to know that it exists; and humility is nothing regrettable. As I develop my voice further, I know that I can stand next to work that doesn’t represent me, without standing behind some of its content–all people experience a journey.
In developing this platform, Maglomaniac, and its predecessor Eat Your Serial, it was exceedingly important to me that writers and contributors be allowed to express their own voices in ways that I did not initially feel empowered to. Or, more honestly, in ways I did not empower myself to.
In my own book, I think, there are perhaps ways I would have expressed my adolescence differently now than I did then. Different items would have been included and excluded from it, and they likely would have been expressed differently. Then again, I was only just starting to work through my own ability to express myself then; I was only beginning to become comfortable in discussing my own opinions and my own story. I had been too busy lending myself to the self-expression of others and suppressing myself, all the while denying that fact to myself.
I can only wonder what my digital footprint will look like in the future. Will there be more books that explore my exploits in self-discovery and sophomorically embarrassing defeats to peer pressure? I can only hope that, if so, they don’t reflect my adult life but one of those by-gone times in my life I’ve just illustrated. I can’t say that I won’t grow to regret the positions I hold today–that’s the beauty of growing, developing, and learning. It’s the very spirit of education. I can’t imagine my positions and opinions won’t evolve and sophisticate, its part of the adventure of life. I have to stand by my own progress then as I do now and look at how far I’ve come. The digital footprint is both dangerous and liberating in that way. Dangerous in that it is a record of your choices–choices that at times we’d rather live down or move away from–but liberating in that it allows you to fully appreciate your journey.
I hope as you both grow you’ll have great opportunities for reflection that are powerful, sobering, and fulfilling, while at the same time I hope that you’ll have as few embarrassing items as possible. And if you do, I hope you’ll have the courage to stand in front of them responsibly, in the light of day and acknowledge your faults, your own growth and forward momentum. I know that the full body of my work, goals, and accomplishments far outweighs the stupid choices of extended adolescence. I know that 99.9% of my digital footprint is work I can speak to and expresses my own voice I think that’s a good record. My digital footprint is in terra firma of expressing ideas with my voice about topics that are valuable to me from positions I can stand in. Most importantly, they are entirely my own.
Perhaps when Jeremy is 25 and I’m 50 you won’t have to, and I’ll realize that my regrettable moments aren’t so bad, even if recorded. In truth, I don’t think they are now, but I’ll own them all the same–it is the only way to give yourself context for personal growth.
And forward movement and growth are some of the best parts of life.
PS As Ayla begins to express herself in increasingly complicated ways, we are preparing Jeremy for Kindergarten in the fall. I am excited to see him take that next step in his education just as I am to hear Ayla’s thoughts and ideas on life the universe and everything (subject Jeremy has been keeping me well informed of for a while). As I look to embark my own next steps in my profession and education, your Mother is also starting to take hers. We are all always growing and working to be better, and I’m thrilled you both have come a long to give a laser focus for me on what really matters.