Anecdotes as Antidotes
"Unlike puppets we have the possibility of stopping in our movements, looking up and perceiving the machinery by which we have been moved. In this act lies the first steps towards freedom."
-Peter Berger, Invitation to Sociology, A Humanistic Perspective
As a parent, I marvel at the malleability of the human mind while watching my two young boys navigate the world around them. They question with reckless abandon and imagine realities with limitless possibilities. Sometimes I worry that all I'm doing is slowly chipping away at it, demanding my kid to come out of the clouds and eat his dinner or put on his pants. Thankfully, my oldest is persuasive (Cancer) and reels me into his imaginary worlds so that I too can reap the benefits of evading reality, if only just long enough to forget about the laundry.¹
As adults, our imaginations allow us to dream, but they can also placate us. We alter our realities with things that we want to be true. People feed us pleasantries and false narratives, trying to protect us or themselves. When we justify, compensate and defer long enough, we rewrite our memories, letting difficult truths to slip into stagnation.
“It occurs to me that we allow ourselves to imagine only such messages as we need to survive.”
― Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking
We also have realities that have been crafted to intentionally deceive us. Once we've uncovered a truth, we become acutely aware of eyes that are up-and-to-the-right and learn to watch for slights of hand. It's easy to feel exposed when you're toeing the line between naivety and mistrust.
Somewhere in the middle of deceit and self-justification lies an industry built on influencing our thoughts. In terms of a target-market, this year I find myself on the "Over" side of the "35 & Over" demographic. It's a broad category with many subgroups, but nonetheless, one with identifiable trends. It's a category full of busy people, tired people, people who want to have it all and people who are questioning just what-the-hell they're doing with their lives. According to the rules of the jungle, we're the perfect prey. We're too distracted to notice the subtle injections of messaging, just busy enough to swoon over life-hacking luxuries like grocery delivery services and just defenseless enough to waste all-too-many moments of our busy lives fawning over the Instagram-filtered bathtubs/reading nooks/vacations/couches/cocktails of others, wishing they could be our own.
Presently, the starting point of the 35 & Over demographic falls just shy of being classified as Millennial². Our coming-of-age tales were written without a glossary of Snapchat filters, but we can manage a selfie if we need to. Which begs the question, are we better for it or more vulnerable because of it?
Some would argue that the technology natives of the Millennial generation are more capable of being present amidst the chaos and thus more able to send the noise of constant messaging to the background. Meanwhile, the older generation is predicted to develop neck problems from hunching over our phones as we consider each message, if even briefly, that is transmitted in our direction.
While I don't feel like I have the credibility to weigh in on the "who wore it best" of internet consumption, I do know for certain that our minds are being altered by what we are putting into them. I feel this viscerally with each passing year. What I watch, what I listen to, what I ingest (food, drugs, art) is all seeping into an increasingly more confusing construction of my own reality. However, I feel like I do have some semblance of control over over these behaviors. Generally speaking, I can manage my intake with the help of some principled household Do's and Don'ts:
Don't watch scary shit before bed. / Do watch movies and shows that are created by people who don't look like you.
Don't put on Gillian Welch unless you're ready to have a good cry. / Do listen to Wu Tang (loudly) when the kids have left the house.
Don't look at your phone first thing in the morning. / Do check the Chill Wildlife feed daily.
Don't discuss matters of even mild significance before coffee. / Do drugs before reading the news.
I know that I'll never have these things completely under control³, but in Berger's terms, when it comes to these movements, I'm aware of the puppet-master and I'm throwing him side eye from time to time just to let him know I'm watching. Where I do feel like I've lost control is in this seemingly grey-area of consent where by providing my handles and contacts results in an endless stream of messaging being passively put into my brain. I understand the agreement when I sign-up for free services. I'm aware that the price of being a preferred customer (with rewards!) is that my information becomes fodder for data entry. Each company that I subscribe to takes my behaviors, smashes them through some algorithms and like an adolescent mean girl, tells everyone my secrets and finds a way to use them to manipulate me.
Lately, it feels like those bitches are in my brain and if you feed them after midnight, they multiply like Gremlins.
In an effort to have a more connected relationship with my consumer behavior and attempt to serve the scheming B's in my brain the eviction notice, I've decided to stop shopping at/on/with corporate retailers for an entire year. I'll remove myself from the mailing lists and unsubscribe from the emails. I'll reroute my shopping trips and learn how to make some things for myself. It'll be an exercise in cutting back and will hopefully help to curb some bad habits so that I can remind myself (and discover) what it is that I really want.
This is by no means a noble quest, I'm not trying to Eat, Pray, Love my life nor am I seeking to find a solution to any of the multitude of hardships facing our world right now. I'm just hoping to find some quiet amongst the noise.
In the spirit of not weaving a false narratives, I developed this project as an excuse to read and write more. I was searching for a lens to filter my writing through. Something that would allow me to write what I know while dipping my toe into some focused research. I always wanted to be a professor, if for no other reason than to be able to create a required reading list.
I've also long considered myself an out-of-practice-writer. My brain in idle strings together sentences, searches for metaphors and conjures up clever anecdotes. Sure, I'll use them for a Facebook post or an Instagram caption here and there, but rarely do I make time to actually put pen to paper and practice the art of writing.
Finding words to package the mundane, the difficult and the darker parts of my days has long-been my method of escaping from reality...and now with my lava-proof boots and all, I do believe that I'm ready to go.