:: Article

The Idea of Fellowship: MySpace, Facebook and the Online Social Networks Phenomenon

By Binh Nguyen.

I had the odd pleasure of going through some of my things stored in a part of a largish room in a house for which I personally searched and secured, in Borough Park, Brooklyn, the house in which I would have lived had not for an unfortunate incident about this time one year ago. Now, most of its five or six current occupants are my friends from The New School and I have the joy to spend this week with them.

It is a breather to know that I don’t have too many things to clean up. My possessions in that part of the room comprise of two suitcases of clothes, shoes and sandals, mail, notes and drafts of poems in various stages from the poetry workshops since my move to NYC in the fall of 2006, books and magazines acquired in the span of about twelve months.

The task of cleaning began at approximately 11 p.m. the night before last (Fri. 11 July 08). I had my laptop with me, accompanied by Youtube and some beloved CD’s I haven’t seen in a year, two cold 24 oz. Budweiser cans, a container of beef & broccoli and white rice from the corner Chinese restaurant — all the provisions I’m content with for the night’s work ahead.

I was made happy upon encountering four old copies of SCRY! SCRY!: A Nexus of Politics and the Arts was a literary and art journal — with occasional political twists — I founded and edited at Hobart & William Smith Colleges, a small liberal arts undergraduate institution in upper New York State, where I attended from 2000 to 2004. I spent some time reading these remnants from what seems like another era and came across an essay I wrote in the second issue of SCRY! The theme of that issue was “The Idea of a University,” a name taken from Bishop John Henry Newman’s book and from an essay by the internationally renowned poet Anne Carson, who graciously allowed its republication for the occasion. My idea was to hear what people — students and faculty at the Colleges and elsewhere, town residents, or virtually anyone — think about the state of today’s higher education, if they care to think about it at all.

When I put out the “Call for Papers” announcement in the spring of ’03, it apparently struck a chord in people and I happily received many submissions from prof’s and students on campus, from friends at a couple of University of California schools, from an alumna, and from a smart young man at the town’s high school. The issue was 24 pages in length, in two colors — red and black — and jam-packed with good stuff.

Right about here, my first beer was gone and the food halfway through. It was around one or two in the morning by now. Cleaning up, for me, does not merely mean cleaning up, it involves dipping my toes into old waters — no, often times it means wading in and getting all wet.

I re-read my essay entitled “Going to College”, and thought to myself, Wow, this is the evidence of my first writerly attempt, my first declaration to the world of who the hell I am. Ballsy little guy I was! The piece was autobiographical, of course, and in it I talked about my 3,000-mile move to upstate NY from San Diego, CA; touched on some of my freshmen year experiences and some of the classes I took (“Intro to American Politics”, “Spanish for Contemporary Issues”, “Science & Religion in the Postmodern World”, and my life-changing first-year seminar, “Education, Justice, and Happiness: Plato’s REPUBLIC”); mentioned the discomfort I felt about the palpable racial divides on campus; gave a brief history of mine (born in Da Nang, Viet Nam in 1981; four brothers in my family, with me being the second oldest; my mom’s death when I was eight; my Grandma, who basically took the role of the care-taker); and included my first poem ever, called “My Conception.”

This is the part of the essay that tickled me:

Along with these academic and social confusions, the strange process that was a part of the Colleges’ “Residential Education” program, touted to be a valuable part of this liberal arts package, baffled me. From fraternities to diverse themed houses, from co-ops to the village by the pond, I saw such warm camaraderie and pastoral yearnings in the nomenclature. It did not take long for me, thankfully, to see that insignias and plastered colonnades serve no purpose but to reveal the transparent fraternal fabrication and termite-infested foundation upon which some collegiate structures stand.

So, I decided to apply for a single room.

It was some time though before I learned to tie myself to my studies, when the rush of the mainstream got to be brackish, so as to resist the trumpets and banners of hokum. In the quiet of my room, with fingers caressing the hard spine of the open book, I would swell with kindred spirits. Or instead of listening to the fatal song of false brotherhood, I would begin to hum….

Not sure whether this part was funny due to its bold take on an old, entrenched mechanism on college campuses, i.e. my absolute belief in the meaningless social and, more importantly, intellectual value of the so-called “Greek system” in today’s universities and colleges, or because the second 24 ouncer is taking its effect, but I couldn’t help but think back to quite a stink that that bit I wrote caused immediately when the issue came out and months afterwards. Oh, I don’t want to gossip about the tacky details that came as a result (how subsequent issues of SCRY! were systematically removed from the mail room and the area leading to the dining commons — two places all students go to daily so large stacks of SCRY! were left in the open for anyone to take for free; how, as I was part of the cross country team for a year, the director of the men’s athletics department, who is a former frat member or an honorary member of one of the frats or some junk, and who is often very nice to student-athletes, gave me the cold shoulders; how the administration, in subsequent months and years, bolstered a gilded image of the fraternity system through countless we-are-frat-bro’s-and-we-are-nice-and-smart-and-straight-and-nonraping-type-o’-guys functions and all sorts of horn-tooting about miscellaneous inconsequential “contributions” and “accomplishments” of this or that frat boy, plastered all over the Colleges’ website, etc. etc.). Anyway, I don’t wanna bore ya.

Dawn was breaking by now — the small room in which I was did provide me with a view.

In light of this rocky relationship between SCRY! and the average-level population at the school, I couldn’t help but admire the fact that SCRY! soared above it all, on its own virtue, in its short existence of about three years. Several crowning moments occurred. For instance, the founder and director of The Center for Book Culture and Dalkey Archive Press in Chicago, IL, agreed to run an ad for SCRY!, for no charge, in an issue of his internationally distributed magazine. As a result, letters and emails from people from all parts of the world poured in, with a gentleman from D.C., for one, asking if he could subscribe to SCRY!, willing to pay. Or for example, Ms. Carson, the famous poet whose essay was reprinted in “The Idea of a University” issue, returned with a never-before-published piece in the final installment of the magazine under my editorship. I also received monetary donations from concerned alumni, alumnae, from my former high school Latin teacher in San Diego, and from total strangers who somehow came in contact with the magazine, wanting to help defray printing costs and keep SCRY! going.

Old friends came back; new friendships were formed, all on the basis of a common interest in the free exchange of ideas.

Not unlike the online social network to which you belong in order to read these words wherever you are in the world on the World Wide Web. No doubt, some of us have blood relations on our list (a fraternity or sorority with real brothers and sisters). For most of us, acquaintanceships, friendships, relationships, were formed and are forming and will continue to form. Lest we forget the “haters,” since this is a free vehicle for the exchange of ideas and images, no doubt there will be ones with whom we don’t gel well.

Despite, or because of, that last fact, there’s always the hope to expand our circle of fine and good people. Always the wish to establish solid and meaningful connections. And always the willingness to invite others to join our vessel of like-minded individuals.

Born in Da Nang, Viet Nam in 1981, Binh Nguyen lived in San Diego, California since 1993. Binh studied literature and creative writing with the poet Jim Crenner at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, in upper New York State, where Binh founded SCRY!: A Nexus of Politics and the Arts. Binh danced with the Lower Left Dance Collective for their Satellite Project in Marfa, Texas and La Jolla, California, from the summer to the winter of 2005. Binh is currently an M.F.A. candidate in Creative Writing at The New School, in New York City.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, December 1st, 2008.