I dream in email… worn-out phrases

November 14, 2010 § Leave a comment

What makes someone feel anti-internet while being on the internet? I don’t know. The weird, fractured ways in which relationships/friendships are played out in random comments between people too far away to see each other, perhaps. You’re supposed to be on Twitter and Facebook to connect to people you can’t see on a regular basis but are often made to confront, instead, the ways in which these connections can exclude, limit, leave out, and just plain confuse. The internet seems to have taken all those ghastly real-life opportunities of feeling left out or being on the outside of things and magnified the effects by a hundredfold. Sometimes, connections over the internet are just one fail whale after another. There is no body language to read, there are no facial expressions to decipher.  It’s interesting how even for writers for whom WORDS! ARE! EVERYTHING! the capacity for excitement and adventure and mystery in personal relationships, even between very good friends, can be brought to a deadening halt by the proliferation of words on a screen. These words are the only clue to what the other person is thinking or feeling. Sarcasm might misfire, a joke falls flat, casual irony comes off a bit cruel. You talk to two people and forget to talk to someone else about the same thing that all of you are aware of. The space from which you can go from feeling friendly towards someone to feeling animosity, or worse yet, uncertainty, can occur within the space of a single tweet.

Zadie Smith said some things about The Social Network, Facebook, and the general weirdness of online “friendships” here. Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic responded with some comments that I thought missed some of her key points over here. What I found most intriguing were the comments in response to Madrigal’s piece, clearly showing that half of the commenters agree very much Smith, while the other half disagree strongly and agree very much with Madrigal.

I, like probably everyone else who live most of their lives online, am consistently drawn to these endless debates about the “humanity and its nature on the internet!” particularly if they attempt to intelligently parse or make sense of the inherently contradictory and endlessly error-prone nature of our online interactions. Lately I find myself being more drawn to arguments that focus on the emotional value of relationships conducted online. I mean, I still wonder if the internet makes us dumb, knowledge-guzzling, unreflexive androids at some level every once in awhile. But more interestingly I just wonder how it shapes and thus alters our interactions with people – more precisely, with the people we already know.

This particular comment to the Madrigal piece by someone named VrDrew in particular caught my attention:

That is the fundamental problem with all computer processing: it wants, inexorably and inevitably, to break everything down to a binary state. But real life tells us that there are literally an infinite range of shades between black and white, between true and false.

Think about the most basic level of Facebook relationships: The “Friend.” One has two choices – either one is a Friend, or one is not. But does that, in any way, mirror our real life experience? Who among us does not have acquaintances with whom our relationships are not, perhaps, more complicated? Real world “friends” – and yet who periodically drive us crazy? People with whom we’d gladly spend an evening carousing or watching football on TV – but yet whom we’d be loathe to tell our medical or financial woes to.

There is that, of course. There is also the friend-who-is-not-quite-the-friend-but-someone-we-know-and-want-to-stay-in-touch-with friend. But as another commenter named Lois Beckett points out:

Whenever anyone posts on a friend’s wall, he or she knows that mutual friends will see the post. If I just wanted to ask a friend a question, I would email or direct message them. Anything I post on a wall has a bit more of a flourish; it’s raising your virtual voice so other people can overhear and jump in.

This is also complicated, when the “people who overhear” comprise friends, good friends, people from your past whose friend request you could not refuse and whom you may or may not like in their current incarnation, relatives, former lovers, current friends, professional acquaintances, and the aforementioned friend-who-is-not-a-“friend”friend-but-more-than-an-acquaintance friend. So there is this sense of this talking to everybody thing that is really underlined by a fundamental sense of uncertainty. Person A tweets or posts a wall comment on really liking band X. Person B wants to say, “Hey, I like Band X too… just discovered them!” Person B goes ahead and says this. Person A says nothing in reply. Sometimes, this is okay. Sometimes, it is not.

Imagine if this conversation was conducted in person. Person A may not have to say anything in response to Person B at all. She can just nod her head, smile, sparkle her eyes at Person B (yes… sparkle), etc., and it is understood that the remark was heard and acknowledged. But the silence on Facebook or Twitter can be the equivalent of Person B talking to Person A, and Person A getting up from the table and leaving. It makes both the intention of posting a random comment on Twitter or Facebook and the intention to reply extremely vague and yet rigidly narrow. Do you want someone to reply to you or not? Are you meant to reply or not? When you write something, you leave tantalising trails for others to pick up on and respond. But the person might respond too late, or at a time when you don’t care anymore. So you don’t reply. Then the other person is uncertain. Then you’re uncertain. Fuck this shit, both of you say, we’re friends but we’re not talking to each other on Twitter or Facebook at all, so la la la la la.

The ever-exhausting conundrum: What the hell am I doing online?

Person B is pissed off, and posts a passive-aggressive tweet or better yet, blogs about this in one-long drawn out article referencing Zadie Smith. Person A reads this and goes, “…” There are so many different ways to be rejected and/or bewildered with your friends and acquaintances through Twitter and Facebook. With the really good friends, you just text or email them and say, “What the fuck?” With the in-between friend who is not a friend, there is only silence potentially leading to massive confusion or a sense of hurt, and then inevitably the “Fuck it, I can’t be bothered anymore” wall that goes up in response to the nature of these online interactions, thereby reducing what could have been a sensitive, interesting interaction to a flat, stale back-and-forth of properly proper responses: “I read this.” “Yeah, I read it, too.” “Cool.”

I’m not sure I’m going anywhere with this so much as thinking out loud, especially since these thoughts have been churning around in my mind ever since I read Eva Illouz’ Cold Intimacies: The Making of Emotional Capitalism. I’ve been thinking lately about how registering emotions online often seems to be either a very ironic or ridiculous thing to do. There is no place for hurt feelings or anger online; it just seems excessive – Why are you angry? For fuck’s sake, take a chill pill – or endlessly hilarious, like when you read insanely enraged troll-comments to an article. How do you register proper joy or happiness or delight besides smiling, by yourself and to yourself, or to the computer screen? You can insert a smiley face or say *smile*. None of this can convey the exchange of warmth between two people actually smiling at each other. That the internet does this to personal interactions is nothing new or earth-shattering, of course, and countless people have blogged and talked about this, but for me personally I seem to want to talk about it because it’s becoming increasingly harder to deal with. These random uncertainties and fears all coalesce in certain theses in Illouz’ book, which has its “Er?” moments (notably in that out-of-nowhere rant against cultural theorists and their “reductive” readings of the internet’s effects on human relations and subjectivity), but it also has its very acute and perceptive moments, especially when Illouz talks about internet dating and the psychology of the self. While she specifically talks about internet dating and its relation to traditional romance, much of what she says applies to how friendships in general are conducted online.

She talks about the internet’s “disembodied textual interaction”, and it is this “textualization of subjectivity”, I think, that proves to be what is hardest to get around:

The work of self-presentation becomes many steps removed from actual social performance and is performed both visually and linguistically not for a concrete, specific other, but for a generalized and abstract audience.

Illouz says this in relation to self-presentation online on internet dating sites, but this statement is true of online interactions between friends who live apart – and who may have not seen each other in years. In this context, however, the twist is that for those of us who are friends in real life and friends on Facebook and Twitter, we’re performing our psychological self for both the concrete, specific other and the generalized, abstract audience.

The Internet provides a kind of knowledge which, because it is disembedded and disconnected from a contextual and practical knowledge of the other person, cannot be used to make sense of the person as a whole.

Again, Illouz is referring to the initial online getting-to-know-you stage between strangers intend on embarking on a romantic quest, but this also applies to people who are your friends but whom you’ve not seen in years. What you’re doing, most of the time, is connecting this sarcastic tweet from a deliciously witty friend to the memory you have of them being sarcastic in person. It was probably a weird experience even in the past when all we had were letters and telephone calls, but particularly indecipherable at times now via applications like Twitter and Facebook. The email is still decipherable, largely, because it is one-on-one conversation; even if it’s to a group, the receiver understands that the message is indeed intended for him or her, as opposed to the vague, generalized audience of Twitter or Facebook.

Illouz also ties together some intriguing points about the body itself as being a repository of social experience – there is the information you freely give, and the information you “give off” via body language and physical presence/proximity. When you see a group of your good friends talking in a cafe, for example, you don’t have to think twice before going up to their table and pulling up a chair to join them. When an online conversation takes place, however, if your name isn’t tagged in the conversation, you spend a good many minutes wondering if you’re supposed to join in… or simply be present while it happens without participating. It is utterly, utterly bizarre at times. It is also potentially heartbreaking and time-wasting and needlessly exhausting. How to respond? The internet also robs the cold shoulder of its value. The cold shoulder, of course, is the preferred weapon of choice for passive-aggressive types everywhere. Online, a cold shoulder is simply… a non-response. The intense drama of it, sadly, is removed. No one is satisfied, no one says a thing, no one knows that something needed to be said in the first place. And on and on we go, tweeting and commenting…

Every week I tell myself to go on a week-long Twitter and Facebook “detox”. Inevitably, this will last a day or two before I find myself spilling over with something to tweet or retweet – the latter being the most cherished way of saying something while saying nothing at all. I told myself to do a Twitter detox over the weekend. I was back on Twitter about 6 hours ago. I can never shut up, it seems, and also, I never stop wanting to know what everyone else is up to. Sometimes, it’s the only way to keep in touch – with the slightest of touches. It seems that we would all really take each other’s tweets and wall posts about this and that, aimed at a generalized, vague audience, or maybe aimed at each other (no one has a clue), than have nothing at all.

*Blog title nicked from Keane lyrics. Not that I listen to Keane. Maybe. Sometimes.

 

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“so I gave myself to God, there was a pregnant pause before he said okay”

October 23, 2010 § Leave a comment

I’m not sure if I should say that Lacan was right, or Zizek was right, but I know much of Lacan through Zizek so I’ll say Zizek was right but perhaps it only means that Lacan was right – sooner or later the Real breaks through and it’s not pretty. I mean, there is no real way to deal with the Real, so one has no choice but to revert to fantasy.

The internet, instead of helping, can only make things worse. Those ridiculous fragments of connections are, as T.S. Eliot said, fragments that I have shored against my ruins. After which I stab myself with those coffee spoons with which I have measured my life.

Well, no matter. Onward and forward, or some such bullshit.

(And yes, while I’m at it, I have just read Jason’s Werewolves of Montpellier. It is excellent, please read it. Laconic, everyday nihilism has never appeared more adorable. I have also watched Agnes Varda’s Le bonheur, and you should watch it, but only when you’re emotionally-sound and radiating contentment and joy from every pore. I will most likely post my depressing thoughts about it here soon.)

 

bits and bobs

October 12, 2010 § Leave a comment

A couple of new posts up at We Are the Cocoa to Your Puffs! Go read! (Please.)

 

the blues

September 15, 2010 § 2 Comments

“The blues” is such a nice way to say I’m feeling fucking sad for no reason and I’ve no fucking idea why. You can roll your tongue over the word “blue” and feel that you’ve just made something beautiful; sadness put to some useful aesthetic use. Partly this stems from having just finished Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, which is very blue indeed. It is ripe with loss on every page; it was too much for me to read all at once. I read bits before bed and had blue dreams and woke up feeling blue. To those of you reading it for the first time I’d suggest not reading it in winter, or before bed, or during, you know, the dark night of the soul. Read it when the soul is sunny.

I also just finished Roberto Bolano’s The Savage Detectives and think that it’s a book that absolutely refuses to be talked about or analysed. I can’t seem to think about it. It seems, more than any other book I’ve read in awhile, to be 577 pages of sentences to be read, experienced, and then put aside. A part of me feels that the act of rumination or analysis will be pointless. But we’ll see what I can make of it. The point of this blog was to train my mind to make sense of absolutely anything. It’s proving harder than I thought; my lazy mind is prone to languishing in feeling and very resistant to thought.

Blueness is further exacerbated by having also just finished Skim, one of the saddest and loveliest graphic novels I’ve had the pleasure of reading in a long time. The illustrations by Jillian Tamaki are heartrending all on their own; if there were ever a person meant to draw loneliness, isolation, and confusion with tender attention to detail, it’s probably Jillian Tamaki. Just the curve of Kim’s jaw, or the small line of her smile, allows the reader full access into the gamut of emotions that riddles her character from one panel to the next. This is not to say that Mariko Tamaki didn’t do a thoughtful and sensitive job with the words; but I can’t imagine this book being as good as it is if it was illustrated by someone else without Jillian Tamaki’s artistic sensibilities.

But it’s also an essentially sad book. And all this sad reading, combined with the thick blanket of clouds that have been a daily staple of the KL skies over the last week – reminding me of Winnipeg fall days, makes me feel adrift and restless, and just a touch blue.

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Because it is a heel, because it is very high

September 7, 2010 § Leave a comment

I suppose I’ve reached my saturation point on a certain sort of feminist art; nope, I do not find miniskirts and bikinis and makeup liberating. You can feel oppressed by seeing a woman in hijab; I can feel oppressed by hotsy-totsy dustjacket photos of women writers. It’s where we come from, I guess.

This was written in the Arabic Literature (in English) blog in response to a profile on Joumana Haddad; something about those words made me want to stand up and applaud, except that I was sitting alone in front of my laptop and I already get enough strange looks from my dog when I talk to myself.

These words are not new or revolutionary, but it sort of triggered something new in me. Let me call it the Treatise on the Objection to the Wearing of High Heels, Particularly When It Applies to Myself. I have made my peace with make-up; by which I mean that I have learned that using it whenever you want to use it is basically fun, and by which I also mean that sometimes like me, you, and everyone I know, I succumb to societal pressure and wear it when I have to Face The World in important ways – job interviews, weddings, stalking hot men. Sometimes, railing against societal constructs is just exhausting, especially since I belong to and participate in society. It’s the bloody crisis of humankind, isn’t it? To rail against, then succumb.

There may be hypocrisy to why I object to high heels more than make-up, I freely admit. I have not yet learned how to make sense of and reconcile these hypocrisies. This is why I have a blog.

It’s wearying, having to defend my decision to not want to wear high heels to certain women, in particular, who identify as “feminist” (understandably a loaded and undeniably tainted word, in my respects) and who, for example, will vociferously defend the right of, say, a Muslim woman to wear or not wear the hijab or niqab. However, these same women will try to exhort you, quite forcefully in fact, to wear high heels. And if you tell them how you’ve worn them in the past and you could care less whether they made your calves look slimmer and your butt perkier, how it hurt and felt uncomfortable and that you hate how unfriendly they feel on your feet after a few hours, they tsk-tsk and shake their heads and say, “Subashini, you simply need to practice wearing them. They’re sexy! They make every woman look thinner! It looks professional!” and so on. And on, and on, and on. But more important, there is that exhortation to practice wearing them.

Well, if I really, really, really wanted to wear high heels, I probably would practice wearing them, like practicing ballet or piano or dribbling a football or, you know, other types of skilled activities that can give one immense contentment. But if I really, really, really find them uncomfortable and dislike the pain that follows after a few hours of wearing them, and if I admit to this discomfort and dislike, it somehow implies a distinct laziness on my part. For not practising wearing high heels enough and refusing to make the effort.

What do you want from me?

Well, I shake my fist at you, damn you, and tell you that I feel oppressed by high heels. I feel browbeaten by the tyranny of high heels. Take that, feminine feminist. Take that, fashionable person. Take that, Victoria Beckham. I’m not telling you that you should feel oppressed by high heels. I’m saying that I am, which does not mean that I’ll always and forever NOT wear them, but I’ll probably very rarely wear them. But if you want to wear them, and run in them, and do whatever you want in them, please go right ahead. But do stop telling me that I have to wear them.

(So much for being objective. This is an extended personal rant to all the people of my past who tried to force me to wear high heels. You know who you are. May you, for one week, dream nightly of sharp stilettos poking into your ribs.)

Which brings me back to the initial quote about Joumana Haddad. I know very little about Joumana Haddad, and the first I heard of her was via this profile in The Guardian. While I find some of her pronouncements quite troubling, I won’t say very much about it because other folks with a strong sense of the Arab context have already done so.

What troubled me more was the journalist’s approach, which certainly became uncritically breathless when it arrived at the subject of Joumana’s physical presence. Beautiful or no, flamboyant or no, it seems that people who want to make a point about feminists! who are beautiful and feminine, too! are just further contributing to the ridiculous notion that beautiful, feminine women who are committed to women’s issues are somehow more special or worthy of note. Like, you know, it’s so predictable that ugly women will be feminists, but a hot! flamboyant! one! How rare a specimen! *breathless* Which is all the more ironic when you read the article, because it seems like Joumana herself seems to be exactly the kind of person who would object to such reductive representations.

Being comfortable with one’s body doesn’t necessarily correlate with being able to wear “sexy” clothes. Being comfortable with one’s body doesn’t necessarily correlate to being comfortable with one’s thoughts. Displaying one’s body explicitly at all-times in skin-revealing clothes doesn’t necessarily translate to being comfortable with one’s body any more than being a pedantic, patronising loudmouth makes one patently comfortable with one’s thoughts.

I mean, if being liberated in one’s thoughts and spirit, and being comfortable with oneself and one’s body can be easily achieved by wearing lipstick, or a miniskirt, or a tube top, or high heels, or letting your hair down, then we would all of us be free. Free, at last!

I will celebrate this moment with another pair of flats soon. Very soon.

(The title of this blog post owes its existence, somewhat, to Joyce Carol Oates.)

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i don’t think you’re ready for this hairy

September 5, 2010 § Leave a comment

Eyebrows. I’m thinking of eyebrows as I continue to read Susan Sontag’s Against Interpretation and Other Essays. It’s a book to savour, because I really like going over her prose – it’s so clean, precise and economical. It’s so confident. Even when she goes off on another tirade about what art is and what art is not and you want to go, “Oh, Susan, hush!”, you can’t stop reading. How can you not enjoy reading a writer who thinks her way through everything? Even if, had we ever met, she would have most likely seen me as a little human cockroach.

But the reason for the eyebrows is that every so often, I’ll read a few sentences, and then stop. Inevitably, I’ll hold the page with my finger and turn to stare at the cover. I was mesmerised by those formidable eyebrows. How many women these days allow themselves to maintain their bold, strong eyebrows? I look around at the women in Kuala Lumpur and I see sameness even when the faces are far from similar – and I suspect this has to do with the Tyranny of the Characterless Eyebrow. On (mostly) every female face, twin wisps of whatever masquerading as eyebrows. Slim lines of uniformity. Interesting faces with those endlessly-tweezed, threaded, and plucked fine lines of eyebrows make me a little depressed; there are so many ways we’re made to alter our appearance to suit what’s in or what’s currently being perpetuated as the ideal standards of beauty – eyebrows seemed like the last bastion of individuality which we were all too ready to give up.

I mean, there’s nothing wrong with naturally-thin eyebrows. Pardon me if I sound a little like the Eyebrow Nazi; that’s the furthest thing I want to be. I just object to those wispy-lines that pass off as eyebrows; those little bolts of hair that have been forced to adhere to bizarre and mutable beauty ideals. No more, I say. Today, we stop this madness. Today,we embrace our eyebrows as they are. We Take Back the Eyebrows.

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False face must hide what the false heart doth know*

August 24, 2010 § 2 Comments

Quite recently, I’ve begun to become obsessed with the notion of owning a smartphone. I’m not quite sure why; my little dumbphone more than admirably serves my needs, especially when you consider that my feelings for the mobile phone are rather mixed: I appreciate being able to call people whenever I want to, but I greatly dislike being available to others at all times.

But the idea, once planted in my mind, would not dislodge. I looked up reviews of mobile phones online, determined to believe that my choice to NOT choose an iPhone indicated a superiority of character. It is strange how we know it’s ridiculous to think that our choices in consumer products reveals something intrinsic about ourselves, yet we continue to make “choices” that speak to us exactly in this way. So I looked up Android phones because I was convinced this made me different.

The interesting thing about reading phone reviews is the way in which reviewers talk about affordable phones – because the new smartphones are bloody expensive, let’s not forget that – as being somehow “introductory” phones, for the low-end user. It’s not so much a culture of looking down at someone for not having enough money to have a new-fangled smartphone as it is more about looking down on adults who don’t make an effort to upgrade their phones as they move up in life. In this sense, life is presented like a very linear progression, where the cheaper, less-sophisticated phones are “alright for students and those new to smartphones” (and here I paraphrase a random review that stuck in my mind), while people who are serious about their life and/or who have already purchased smartphones before cannot simply revert back into unsophiscation and backwardness. We must march on. Forward. The upgrading of a phone is a sign of progress, and a proper adult would participate in this culture of progress, because not doing so is kind of shameful, like asking for a caramel latte when every other person is ordering a skim or soymilk latte. In fact, it’s almost similar – how can you ask for a caramel latte when you know how many calories it has, how fat it can make you? As a responsible adult who is only going to get better, you have to make the right choice to indicate your commitment to Improving Yourself.

Similarly, how can you simply settle for an ordinary phone when it’s clearly the lazy option? The effort of working on your life includes using the technology that best reflects your continuous need for self-improvement. An ordinary, regular, dumbphone is simply slob-like; it shows a marked disregard for hard work (that is, working hard on acquiring the right symbols to reflect your continuous progress) so that the message to you, dumbphone user, is: Whatever, you slobby person, stop whining about how much smartphones cost, we can’t help you, don’t blame us if you atrophy, etc.

This struck me particularly because a local daily published an article on the increasing rate of cosmetic surgery among men, women, children, and well, EVERYONE. On parents who bring in their children for cosmetic surgery, an “expert” cosmetic surgeon had this to say:

“Parents are more aware of the competition out there. They bring their children for enhancements to put them in same or higher category than their peers.”

Although not stated explicitly, this statement seems to come right out of the school of Doing Better, Wanting More. In an accompanying piece on cosmetic surgery – among children – The Star wrote:

Lim draws a distinction between the child seeking cosmetic surgery “because I hate the way I look” and “because I want to look even better”.

If the child is okay with himself and the way he looks but has the means (or the parents have the means) to make himself look better, then “why not”, he reasons.

If you want to do better – and this means cutting into your face and improving what is already very nice – it’s OKAY, because it signals a very reassuring need for improvement.

In yet ANOTHER accompanying piece on cosmetic surgery (The Star outdid itself, what can I say?), there is a section that bears reprinting at length:

“Like it or not, people judge a book by its cover. Looking good has become a necessity all over the world. It has become a part of life,” says aesthetic physician Dr Alice Prethima.

She says that in the old days, when a person was out of shape and looked bad, people accepted it and merely said “she has aged, she has put on weight”. For a male, they would comment that “he’s prosperous, he ate too much good food”.

But things have changed.

“These days, people think the person is lazy and won’t do anything for himself.”

She believes that just like exercise and supplements, cosmetic surgery and procedures are becoming a way of life as the country becomes more prosperous and people have the means to strive for good health and to look better.

Dr Prethima: ‘More men are coming in to look good and teenagers too are being brought in by their parents.’

“It’s in the subconscious. It is common in any living species that they will be attracted to a better-looking person. The reason is that a better-looking person is supposed to be more fertile and healthier and that will go towards progeny.

“If a person looks good, is fit and takes care of himself, then people would think they can take care of the family, the office or the community. The brain thinks that way. It’s natural,” says Dr Prethima, who has been running an aesthetic clinic for 11 years.

While I do think that our dear Dr. Alice Prethima is a bit harsh, I do also believe that she’s very right and has accurately described our present modern cultural condition. An ugly face or a flabby bum is seen as a very real symbol of one’s presumably inherently degenerative and lazy nature, just as an old phone represents your lack of will. The phone is no big deal, in a sense – people who get annoyed by criticisms of modern capitalism love to shout: “We’ve always wanted new things! The history of mankind is the history of wanting new things!” – but it’s a sign of the times, indeed, when a new face and a new body are also pre-requisites for admirable, sturdy, progressive characters. If you make an effort to fix get a new phone and a new car and a new house and a new face, you’ll make an effort to care for the people in your life, and others will want to marry you.

I’m not sure what slope we’re sliding down here, but the descent seems steep.

*Much thanks to Shakespeare for the title.

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i’ve got soul but i’m not a soldier

August 22, 2010 § 2 Comments

I took some time off the Internet for the last seven days because I needed to find myself.

*smirk*

I needed to find my Walden Pond. The Twitterverse – too much noise. The silent stalking on Facebook – too damn creepy. The articles, blogs, tumblr, online news – too many thoughts; few of them pleasant.

Of course, completely staying away from the internet is not possible. There is The Email. It seems that it has been decreed that we must all use it, especially where work is involved. But other than that, it was a largely successful experiment. It was… restful. In the mornings, instead of drinking a cup of coffee to news and tweets about news, I watched my dogs romp after terrified tree-shrews in the garden. I know that there’s nothing worse than a pretentious bourgeois urbanite writing about “How I stayed away from the internet… and rediscovered my garden!” but that is exactly what I’m doing. I stayed away from the internet, and reader, I rediscovered my garden.

Aaah. (But this is not my garden.)

I am not the first to note that the moment you step away from a machine to which you’re connected to for a large part of the day, you tend to feel more at home in your body. I don’t know how to say this without sounding twee, but the humanness of your human body is returned to you when you disengage from the computer for long periods of time. Thus, when people pissed me off in the malls – as they tend to do here in Kuala Lumpur, Valley of Malls – I simply took a good look at their tired, defeated faces and realised that their expressions mirrored my own. The moment – a few seconds, really – of attention that is required of humanity; the few seconds it takes to look at someone else’s face and reconsider your own response or expression; that is the first thing that dissolves into the ether when you’re plugged into a machine. Which is how I felt, for most of the day, doing most of my work and freelance writing on the computer, switching screens to check email and read tweets, switching screens to read articles and Op-Eds, then taking a break, then deriving my entertainment and my mental nourishment from DVDs watched on the computer, books reads as PDF files. I had forgotten what is what like to just be.

As of now, I’m back in the fray, and it’s already making my head spin. I’m not sure why this should be the case, but I suspect a lot of what I need to learn to do in our new age of digital noise and unlimited information is to learn where to draw the line. Learning how and where to draw the line is harder than it seems; it’s precisely why Oprah has become filthy rich preaching it to millions. But perhaps, with a little Faith, I will find My Way. *cue the violins*

*UPDATED to include this thoughtful rumination by Amit Varma on Coates’ blog post, and also on the nature of society and communication and “internal noise”.

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Deviously blogging elsewhere

August 11, 2010 § Leave a comment

I will like to take this moment to announce a new blog: We Are the Cocoa to Your Puffs.

I write it together with a dear friend and sneaky collaborator, Sharenee. The blog is about, well, Women’s Issues… yeah, I know… big YAWN, right? Women-schwomen, always complaining about every damn thing… what more do women-schwomen want?!?

Well, the short answer: we’re brown, we’re Malaysian, we’re women, and we’re tired. Also, we’re pissed. Hence, the blog.

Please go have a look; my posts are depressingly words-only, but Sharenee draws some amazing comics featuring a stupendous lead character named Miz Moe, who is also a dog. Miz Moe is one of the smartest people dogs I know.

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Neither here nor there

July 25, 2010 § Leave a comment

  • This article in The Guardian: Enid Blyton’s Famous Five Get 21st-Century Makeover.  It’s the silliest thing I’ve heard. Millions of non-white kids in varying hues of cream, brown and black read Enid Blyton millions of miles away from the UK without passing out from the sheer difficulty presented by the text that included phrases like, “lashings of pop” and “jolly japes”. This is how misguided marketing kills reading. Children figure these things out; I did, as almost everyone I know who read the books did. The books were written in a certain milieu. The “slang” reflects that time and place. End of story. And while we’re at it, I’m against changing words that are “racist” and “sexist” and “classist”. Blyton wrote horribly racist, sexist, classist things. Purifying her books by updating her language just makes life easier for the adults – everyone can rest easy knowing that their kids are reading “safe” books. But using this as an opportunity to discuss what their kids read? To explain to children why Blyton had those views, why people all over the world continue to have those views? That’s a little bit more complicated. No one has time to talk about things anymore. So yes, let the kids think that Blyton “couldn’t have meant ‘tinker’ perjoratively.” Let’s purify people of their intentions, real or imagined. Let’s just pretend everything is jolly well fine.
  • I’ve criticised VenusZine’s new “direction” under the new publisher and editorial board once before. Unfortunately, I still had one more issue to go before the subscription expired, and so when I received the Summer 2010 issue I stared despondently at Jack White staring despondently down at his guitar, and opened it. It still sucks. This time, they had the ‘VZ’s Ultimate Guide to Summer Reading’ section, which had a little sidebar of their 10 Essential Authors. I produce the list in its entirety:

  1. Richard Yates
  2. Alice Hoffman
  3. Jonathan Safran Foer
  4. Alice Munro
  5. Hunter S. Thompson
  6. Joyce Carol Oates
  7. John Steinbeck
  8. Jodi Picoult
  9. Chuck Klosterman
  10. Mary Karr

It’s amazing! It’s like the Venus Zine writers have never heard of a non-white author in their life! It’s like they’ve never read a good book in their life! It’s like they’re a bunch of retirees in Florida with a subscription to Poets and Writers and Writer’s Digest.

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