Of the many lessons I learned as a kid — from, “Why would you mow the whole lawn and then not cut the grass behind the shed you can see there’s grass there, right?” to, “Why would you wash the entire car but not wash the bugs off the bumper you can see there’s bugs there, right?” — I hang on to a very familiar and worthy saw that never seems to expire no matter how rudimentary it sounds: “Never be afraid to ask a question.”
Be the kid in the class who asks too many questions, and if something doesn’t make sense to you, don’t give up, just ask someone who you think might know. Ask someone you may not even know! Commiserate in the deep abyss of the unknown with a new pal — you already have something in common. There’s knowledge all around us in the abyss, if not new facts then new ways to perceive and interpret the things we’ve come to believe are facts. Pardon its mawkishness, but a favorite quote of mine goes, “Of course it’s scary to give up what we know, but the abyss is where newness lives. Great ideas and inventions miraculously appear in the space of not knowing.”
This ideology works well — in theory. Most of the time if you ask someone a question, they will give you an answer. When you start to factor in variables like who this person is and what kind of question you are asking, and why are you asking it, or why are you asking me, that’s when the simple Q&A machine can break down.
Sometimes I email questions to other writers and critics. Collegues, friends, people I look up to, people from Twitter or Tumblr. They’re usually questions about complicated issues that I have a hard time parsing by myself; usually about some sort of rap narrative that I can’t follow, or about trying to empathize and contextualize the Drill scene in Chicago. I emailed Meaghan once and she gave the most thoughtful, kind, and wicked smart response to what was probably a pretty bone-headed and ignorant question about Chief Keef and Lil Reese. I was humbled.
Every time I emailed someone a question, be it just a “Thoughts on this?” or “This sucks right just tell me it sucks b/c I’m abt to set everything on fire” to people I talk to every day or to people I hardly know, a dialogue occurs. Information is exchanged, and at the very least I come away feeling like I conquered a fear of not knowing via a Vg-Ex P2P connection.
Conversely if I’m ever on the A side and not the Q side, I, to be perfectly honest, feel pretty good about myself, both ego- and charity-wise. Tumblr has an ask feature and people answer them all the time, anons and followers, thousands of Q&As are happening right now, IRC and IRL, and my oh my are most of those going along just splendidly.
I failed at one of these Q&As this weekend. I emailed someone I had met all of once, who was gracious enough to lend me their time about a particularly complicated issue, and things broke down. The conversation did not end with either of us being particularly happy with one another. I take full blame for what happened. I won’t go into the the details of the exchange suffice it to say, It was very upsetting for me and for this other person, but I truly believe we both handled the situation to the best of our abilities.
Then I got to thinkin’ about this ideology I hold so dear and a certain topical, egomaniacal, and insufferable pied piper who trades on the Art of Asking and my heart just sank. Am I her, standing on an old milk crate with a fucking daisy in my hand batting my eyes at people begging them for information? I imagined critics calling me a huckster, here to con the commodity of information out of people. (I fully disclose that if you donate your knowledge, all can give in return is a hearty thanks and an offer to foot a hypothetical lunch bill!) I imagined critics saying I’m privileged enough to have the ability to ask other people for knowledge. I imagined critics informing me that I could probably DIM without asking anyone, like thousands of people with a cursory understanding of Google do every day. No one does this. Figure it out. I didn’t do this. I never just asked anyone for their time. We objectively do not need each other as much as we used to, so that when someone does ask a question, a perfectly valid response is: LMGTFY.
So what’s the value we assign to information that we impart to other people that does not offer us any kind of money, or likes, or favorites, or retweets in return? Is this somehow more valuable knowing that the time spent on this and the bytes processed IRC and IRL will, ostensibly, offer you very little to nothing in exchange?
Do you text that special someone your best jokes, or do you tweet them instead?
If anyone wants to help to answer these questions to the best of their abilities please hit me up. First round’s on me next time.