Thursday, July 31, 2014

About Time

In the one month since I first broke my foot, things happened that I didn't entirely expect. I found that modern medicine wasn't quite fixing broken bones at warp speed yet, that using crutches was surprisingly demanding, that my city was littered - peppered - with threats to anyone past their ambulatory prime, that (some) people were more courteous and considerate than I would have expected, and that time worked differently than I had thought. 

I realised that it was, in fact, possible to spend whole days doing very little. That taking minutes to hobble very short distances between points A and B changed my appreciation for what was waiting for me at the end of these bite-sized journeys - a meal, a conversation, a caffeinated beverage. Moving slowly for the first time in my life, I began to understand why speed might, in fact, be overrated. 

Why do we value doing things quickly quite as much as we seem to? What psychological prop does our in-built sense of urgency provide? Why do we cling to self-imposed deadlines while claiming to abhor and labour reluctantly under them? Once it becomes apparent that our personal worlds don't quite crumble when we give ourselves a little temporal leeway, it becomes harder to justify our perpetual time-crunching, task-juggling dance. 

I work in an industry in which clients want everything 'as of yesterday.' My peers and I often watch, indignantly, as files and reports put together overnight drift between us and them in inbox limbo, to be accessed only days - even weeks - later. 

It's almost as if prioritising and postponing have become cop-outs. As if we trust neither ourselves, nor others, to get anything done if the requirement isn't etched out somewhere in bold, honking letters with the words 'NOW' attached. As if, lacking the distraction of induced urgency, we might actually start reasoning and questioning and wondering whether what we're doing might be done better, or indeed, needs doing at all. Where would that leave us? With time on our hands. And the sense that we should probably find something worthwhile to do with it. 

Just a theory. Now that I have the time.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Setting Us Up, to Fall Short

If the past week has taught me anything, it's to make my peace with the unexpected and faintly ironic. How else does one account for the fact that a sedentary soul such as myself manages to sprain her foot right outside her front door, while wearing safe and sturdy, ergonomically certified wedges? And that the sprain turns out to be much more, namely a fracture calling for surgery? And that, after months of wanting a break, I find myself confined to traveling the short distance between my bedroom and living room, with all the time in the world on my hands? 

After the mandatory couple of days spent railing against the fates and contending with my crutches, I decided to use this time by doing something I have always wanted to do - indulge myself with a TV show marathon. It seemed a deliciously decadent thing - a wilful waste of time, the one thing I find myself always running short of. I had my laptop, a working wi-fi connection, and a specific show in mind - The Good Wife, recommended by friends, acclaimed by critics and anchored by the impressive Juliana Margulies. 

I was good to go, ready to be absorbed and engaged by people, scenes, settings, maneuverings and dialogue. And yet, a handful of episodes and a few hours later, I found myself feeling strangely spent, caught up in a morass of emotions that I was experiencing first-hand but that weren't mine. It felt like feeling, twice-removed. All my buttons were being pushed, in the right order and to the right degree, but the drama felt a little too deft and therefore, dissatisfying. 

And I realized why television dramas leave me cold. The emotionality is too insistent, the characters' graphs too intriguingly grey, the conversations always clever and meaningful and nuanced. It's too much life, in short. Shorn of banality, quiet, silliness, pointlessness, routines and chores - all the pauses that give the peaks their significance.   

Television works best for me when it presents as itself. As consumerist fantasy (Sex and the City), as actual fantasy, as history recreated, as masterful re-tellings of famous stories and resurrections of beloved characters (Sherlock), as behind-the-scenes, wheels-within-wheels perspectives (Studio 60), as problem meets solution with a few punchlines and detours thrown in (CSI, NCIS), as political intrigue (West Wing, House of Cards), as amusement and distraction (New Girl), as wry, scripted takes on the mundane (Parks and Recreation), as fanciful story-telling (Pushing Daisies). All of this is fiction, stories about life as I've never known it, and never will. But the breathlessness, intensity, conflict and chaos of drama, the rendering of lives in heightened colour and pitch - it is television at its most cloying and compelling and manipulative.

It sets our reality up for falling short. 
 
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