In this month’s issue of Wired, there is a humorous article about the mainstreaming of geek culture and its effects on innovation. The writer (comedian Patton Oswalt) contends that the genesis of innovation is dissatisfaction, and that given the current penchant for instant gratification and diversion through such media as the Internet we threaten to lull ourselves into complacency.
How very unzen.
How very Orwellian.
Humor aside, there are some interesting points to consider.
If we reach the pinnacle of Mazlow’s pyramid, are our intellectual appetites doomed to atrophy?
Or is the implication that we will be trapped on a lower level, lacking the motivation to reach self-actualization?
Whatever the answers might be, I like Oswalt’s solution: make sure that pop culture sucks, so that counterculture may rise from the ashes. And, I suspect we’re pretty much already heading down that path.
It is tremendously challenging to be mindful and not become discouraged now and again.
The heroes of many novels are men of character, with iron wills and impeccable moral compasses. They are robust, infallable, pursuing justice with unwavering focus. But these are men of fantasy only. They lack dimension. They frequently lack passion. They are caricatures.
Willa Cather was a champion of capturing the small acts of intention that differentiated men and women from their neighbors. Her portraits of flawed and frail humanity are compassionate but unflinching, so that one can love the wild child thoroughly yet understand, and accept, her failings.
In these stories, somewhere between the unrealistic and the honest is a shared thread: isolation. The stalwart hero stands alone with his sense of honor. The wild child is an outsider because her passions are foreign to her community.
Is the message, then, that living a life of intention is isolating?
Isolation doesn’t reconcile with Connection, and most of us require connection of one form or another in order to both remain healthy and continue to discover our potential. And for some of us (including myself) connection is a source of the energy we require, in that we must give out some warmth and on fortunate occasions receive warmth in return.
Are we then condemned to half a life when we choose to live mindfully?
This question resonates with me this morning.
My iPhone is indispensable. It passes its idle hours in a studded pink leather case that clips to my belt or slips sinuously into my handbag. During meetings I consult the calendar or set up a reminder. During a lunch hour I make Facebook updates and add comments to my friends’ Facebook updates. I check personal emails, take odd snapshots, send ironic texts to friends, and add to my shopping list. Oh and occasionally I might telephone someone.
Most recently I have become enamoured of a role playing game, Quest. While my husband watches television I play the game. As a ‘reward’ for completing monotonous chores I play the game. When I need to escape from the vanilla reality of suburban life I play the game. I am new to rpgs, so this is a voyage of discovery.
My character is Analia, a Derth (but with nice hair, of course!), a mystic, an explorer, and a warrior. My ultimate quest is to rescue the Governor of Freymore, but I’ve barely progressed as along the way I have met people who needed help and have taken up their cause. I have slaughtered Orcs, evil Shaman, various skeletons, ghosts and ghouls. I have gathered plants and concocted potions, discovered booty and gambled at cards. I have collected amulets and armour, and found, bought and sold weapons and magic wands. Analia is known as a strong warrior woman, popular with townsfolk and only rarely in trouble with the local soldiers. She is a person who strives to maintain some integrity.
I started playing the game as an experiment in cognitive behavior modification. I wondered, Would the act of playing at being someone strong and independent cultivate some of those skills in my brick-and-mortar self? And strangely, somewhat surprisingly, the answer seems to be Yes.
As a childless adult, the biological imperative to reproduce occasionally grabs a bullhorn and shouts into my ears. There is no rational component of the longing, and as I am of an age when it is both unlikely that I would be able to carry a child, and unrealistic for my husband and I to start raising one, I am content to sit back quietly until the hormones settle down and cease their annoying antics.
Today after running several errands I dropped by a Subway sandwich shop to grab something quick and marginally healthy for dinner, as my husband and I were planning to stay at home to watch movies. And ahead of me in line was a woman, not much younger than I, with her son.
It was clear that the pair had been in the shop for some time. The child, who appeared to be about 10 years old, had laid his head on the counter in frustration as his mother hollered at him about whether he wanted bacon on his sandwich, then turned to bellow questions toward the young countergirl about the price of the sandwich. When the girl pointed out that bacon was 50 cents extra, the customer became irate and in rapid-fire language listed numerous alternatives – which soon seemed to cause the Subway employee some great confusion.
I almost left the shop, but for concern that the child’s mother might launch herself across the counter onto the countergirl, like a great white fighting rooster taking down a downy chick. All of a sudden I realized that my fear of watching The Exorcist was unreasonable; the reality of overwrought suburban moms is far, far scarier.
Later, I took comfort in my childlessness, as there but for the absence of God go I.
Last weekend some family members were in town and unexpectedly available. At the last moment, six of us coordinated to visit with them.
We had a great time catching up; it had been many months since we had spoken with these cousins, and being good-natured, well-traveled and full of news about various grandchildren and sons-in-law, it was a lively visit.
At the company where I work, there are three topics one avoids: sex, politics and religion. My husband and I adopted this ban in relation to my relations, as they are far more conservative than is normal for people who live in Northern California. Unfortunately, the converse is not true: my family members repeatedly land upon two of these topics: religion and politics. I usually make the obligatory snarky remark then refrain from engaging, or I attempt to find a common point of agreement to ease the tension the topics introduce into the conversation.
This Sunday conversation went along the same lines, and I was without my husband to defend my honor as a person who holds the Bill of Rights in high esteem; I had to navigate the stormy waters without his support. To keep the pressure off of myself, I was largely an observer as the conservatives held forth about our incoming president, Barack Obama.
First, I was secretly horrified that though she possesses a ticket to attend the inauguration and will be in D.C. on Tuesday, my niece is opting to stay at home due to an hysterical fear that Al Quaeda will attack the crowd. I would sacrifice a part of my shoe collection if that would create the opportunity to attend this event, but she said that if her candidate had won (you know who her candidate was: the esteemed but mad former POW who selected that bimbo from Alaska as his second) she would attend but as it is …
Next, I was privy to Secrets of State, as apparently there are multiple, imminent threats to the people of the United States from evil, foreign terrorists who have sneaked into our country and are planning something big (but shhhh … don’t mention where you heard this!). Even now, those Spawn of Satan are plotting the overthrow of democracy as we know it.
Now, I don’t know about the rest of you but it sure seems that George W. did an awfully good job at attempting to undermine the provisions of the United States Constitution, with a great deal of assistance from a Republican Congress. He established the Department of Homeland Security, which says it all: Let’s create an overwhelming sense of panic and ethnocentrism, while creating a huge bureaucracy that will have the authority to mine the personal details of people’s daily lives in search of such blatant, defiant acts of terrorism like carrying cuticle scissors in your carry-on luggage! Two birds with one stone!
Finally, in discussing the future of the country there were several remarks made about Obama now saying that it will take time to set the country on the correct course, and we need to work hard to overcome the problems that lay ahead. Oh no, he never mentioned these things during his campaign; he was all sunshine and light, surrounded by Munchkins from the Lollipop Guild. And now – gosh darn it! – after being involved in Bush’s security briefings he is seeing it, he is getting it. So – ha! to the stupid liberals who voted for the man who saw the world through rose-colored glasses – you were all duped!
Now, this series of remarks had to be addressed, as they were entirely untrue, complete misrepresentations of Obama’s campaign discussions. So I finally spoke up.
I pointed out that througout Obama’s campaign he had emphasized that change does not happen overnight, and that change requires hard work. I shared that in nearly every speech I had heard, Obama called upon people – people like ourselves – to work hard, to participate, to advocate. I reminded them that Obama had clearly and repeatedly said that we all have to work together to solve the problems facing our country. And finally, I said that I believed that Obama was elected because people appreciated this honesty because it suggested that this is a man who can be trusted; it’s the sign of a good … no, great leader.
This ended the conversation about politics.