Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Between The World And Me

In the past year, I can't recall how may articles I have read about habits and routines of successful people. The focus on sleep hygiene is probably the common theme across them all. There seems to be the presumption that people have unlimited discretion on the use of their time and to that end they can just snap out of their loser-like habits and become a winner. Any full time working parent of an overbooked high schooler will tell you such is simply not the case. My friends with more than one kid have it much worse than I do. Every hour of time to be used at our discretion has to be earned with great effort. If I need to be on work related calls past 11 pm and still need to drop my kid off to swim practice at 6 am the next day, the math of my sleep hours is not within my control anymore.

But the constant admonitions of the experts on how not to become sick and a loser by way of sleep deprivation and being tethered to electronics served me well. I was able to change a few habits that fell in the "worst offenders" list. It also became clear in the process that I was not reading nearly as I much as I would like on topics that had nothing to do with my work. The absolutely luminous prose of Ta-Nehisi Coates in Between The World And Me was a prefect detox for my acquired bad habits over the last few years. Coates covers a lot of ground between personal narrative, history, reportage and race relations. There is very little if any anger in how the most troubling topics are discussed. Instead the reader is challenged to think about larger themes and the burden of history.

This is not a book about parenting but that was what resonated with me the most. He tells his son "You need to know that I was loved, that whatever my lack of religious feeling, I have always loved my people and that broad love is directly related to the specific love I feel for you". This is only one of the many memorable lines that made this one of the best parenting books I have read. Coates does not try to tell me how to be a good mother but helps me understand my mistakes and motivations as I try to be one to my fifteen year old.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Sparse and Gapped

My home is tidy and sparse. At times it could feel weightless without the heft of memories. While watching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I thought about coping with things from the past that still cause pain. In my case, I have given away a lot to the local thrift stores and am not all cleaned up yet. The more I give way the less burdened I feel. Over time the open spaces where things had been acquire a character of their own. It could be the way the sunlight falls there through the window on a winter afternoon, or it way I set my laundry hamper there and forget to take it upstairs. The blank spaces are claimed back from objects now gone along with stories they bore. With so many gaps all around, the story of me, of us who were part of it have imagined and alternate endings. They may traverse through these new spaces in ways they could not have done before.

Friday, December 02, 2016

At Blocked

The best cure for writers block is writing. This piece of wisdom came from an acquaintance who once wrote. Following a transformational life experience, it is hard to speak from the heart which was the point of this blog. The heart is not where or what is used to be. I seem to have a stranger living inside my head. The two of us don't speak the same language or think the same thoughts. They make me reconsider all opinions, beliefs, loves and hates of the past in new light. In that sense, the years are decades that shaped me are now invalidated. So there silence, alien ideas that are hard to grasp though they come from within and a crippling incapacity to write. All this time, I have missed the therapeutic value of writing.

As an exercise to come in alignment with the stranger in my head who I am beginning to learn about, here are some mutually agreeable thoughts about Facebook.

There has been much talk about the recent elections in America having been heavily influenced by fake news promoted by Facebook. People have their worldviews reinforced by seeing more of what they want to see or believe. So we grow more entrenched in our positions, vindicated by fake news as it turns out. But the success and even existence of Facebook is predicated on our need for pretense and deception. Fundamentally, Facebook is less technology company and more grand experiment in human psychology and manipulating it for financial gain.

My childhood friend A is in a dead marriage for fifteen years now. He calls me sometimes to talk about the suffocation, about pretending to be Facebook Happy like everyone else he knows. He talks about doing time as long as he is able, about doing the right thing by his two children. His family pictures are snapshots of perfection they are meant to be. There is large contingent of Friends congratulating him on his wonderful kids and beautiful wife. He politely thanks them all. He lives a lie every time he posts one of these vignettes of his life, gets innundated with Likes and cheering comments. He chooses to broadcast the fiction not because he cannot separate it from fact.

He is hardly alone in doing so. A is using Facebook exactly as it is meant be used. Just like the fake news feeds that caused so much uproar, each person is feeding a constant stream of their deseiratum - unfolding a false narrative of themselves to their Facebook Friends. Collectively we curate an alternative reality of our society whose bounds depend on how much influence we possess.

Those fake news feeds belong squarely in this universe and should not be singled out for censure. Indeed, there is no place for truth or real news on Facebook. It would be at fundamental odds with the point of its existense. If we can no longer create our alternate realities on Facebook complete with "news stories" that affirm them, we might as well not be there.