Monday, November 28, 2011

Reality Bites

These days television reality shows are popular. Apparently we cannot have enough of our realities that we must have television shows involving real people showing their emotions and behaviour in real time or time when the shows are being filmed. How real are these so called reality shows? And what it is that makes these shows appealing to the masses? The participants appear to be cool individuals who carry on with their acts and conversations as they are captured on these cameras. The heated arguments and the tension between people who are competing in a race or a game show are thus  captured and displayed publicly. Do we need to watch couples or friends or family members quarrel so that we know it is part and parcel of a relationship? These shows can make or break a relationship . It is a battle of wits and wills; most participants are not on their best behaviour when they are confronted with challenges which will ultimately determine the winner. Maybe the audience want to be reminded about how similar our needs are and we are not alone in our emotions and conflicts as it is all part of our human nature and how the world is  really about survival for the fittest.

A month ago, I watched the movie “ Tree of Life”, a meditative film where the story unfolds against the beautiful cinematography and the underlying themes about aging, life and humanity. The protagonist, Jack O’Brien finds himself a lost soul in the modern world and contemplates about the meaning of life as he thinks about his childhood and his parents. He thinks about his strict and authoritarian dad who is irritable and lives in regrets about not following his passion of becoming a musician and instead become an engineer. Jack’s dad tried to prepare his sons for a world he sees as corrupt and exploitative and he hoped to become rich by selling some of the inventions but unsuccessful. While Jack’s dad laments the course his life has taken, Jack’s mother is a symbol of grace who takes life in its stride as she grieves for the loss of one of her teenage sons. In between telling the ordinary story of a middle class family, there are stunning cosmic imagery that represents the beauty of the universe. I enjoyed the cinematography thoroughly.

As a young adult, I lacked the sense of urgency which was deemed a character flaw in our modern life. When I started working, I developed a sense of urgency as it was necessary in the legal profession to observe time line.  In order to avoid any undesirable consequences, whether it was to do with submitting and filing in court documents or preparation and completion of documentation for various legal purposes, observing time line was an absolute must. Although procrastinating a task is much frowned upon in terms of professionalism and efficacy thus best avoided, sometimes a delay could turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Due to a delay, a client can sometimes find a better approach to his or her problems or reach an alternative solution or  by default there are  changes  to the circumstances of the matter. There may also be some occasions where the laws had changed whether by the legislature or through interpretation by the courts as a result , a postponement might work towards one’s benefit.

Reality sets in when it dawns on you that you have been caught in a race against biological clock, goals and contingency at every stage of your life,  day in day out you soldier on and discharge your duties and responsibilities whether they are related to work or your home.  You wish you could be in a time warp  which allows time to stand still for you to figure out what you are doing and  really want to do in your lifetime. Over the years, multiple tasks, some mundane while others more challenging and  mostly repetitious become an integral part of your daily routine and that is  when  you are  officially grown up.  There may come a time it is imperative that we feel we must get to do what we  really want to be involved in. By then we may have become so entrenched with what we are accustomed to doing and we are too afraid to leave our familiar grounds. I recently read John Grisham’s latest novel “the Litigators” where the protagonist decides to quit the top solicitors firm he was working with  and join the street lawyers. Maybe that only happens in fictions where all things will turn out well. Nonetheless you hear of success stories where people end up pursuing their dreams. All it takes is determination and conviction and self indulgence.

 As a rule we prefer to stay in our comfort zone rather than venture out in unfamiliar terrain. We prefer the tried and tested routes so did our parents and their parents. Being unorthodox is not safe and most of us are too afraid not to conform  for fear that we may make mistakes or decisions which we will regret. Perhaps the majority of us acknowledge that we are no visionaries so we stay in line with convention and try to lead a life worth living . Is  our lack of imagination attributable to the education system or our upbringing or social conditioning? Maybe. Most of us have been ingrained with the fear that if we do not have a  job, we shall have no money and may be shunned as pariahs so since young, we are expected to study hard and pursue a degree or qualification which will get us gainful employment regardless of whether some of us may be academically challenged. We tell the young ones  that if they do not pursue a qualification or some skills which are in demand , their future will be bleak. If only we could be brave and cast aside our fear for the uncharted and be benevolent and not beat ourselves about for not achieving material success , we may just have a faint idea about what we like to pursue. If only we could catch a breather amidst our daily grinds, we may have an inkling about what we like to take a chance upon. Hopefully with some conviction, we too may  follow our hearts if we choose to .

Friday, November 4, 2011

The World is Our Playground

It is uncanny when I  turned to a page randomly, the words which happened to cross my mind somehow sprang from an article or a fiction I happened to be reading . They are sheer coincidences but  they  reinforce the fact that what is on my mind is shared by many other individuals. There were times when I was internalizing a thought, I came across books which were about the very same theme I happened to be reflecting on . Perhaps it is law of attraction, you get what you are looking for. Perhaps we read what we think.

La Saone- Gray
I have been thinking quite a bit about how we can choose to be elusive and deluded about our situations and what we remember about the past might have been inaccurate. We have a tendency to reconstruct our memory and amend what we remember about the past. Here is a prime example: I had never thought of myself as a strict mother but apparently there was this incident my twenty year old remembered.  She was not allowed to go on a school trip during primary school because she did not do well in some school test. I subsequently jogged my memory and vaguely recalled that there was one school trip  where we had paid up and subsequently she had to tell the teacher that she would not be going for some reasons or other. I think it was probably one of the joint decisions I had to make with my significant other. On my part, I was relieved that she was not going as I had a tendency to become worrisome about my  daughters’ travelling on those buses which the school usually chartered for such trips. I worry about errant and reckless drivers and unhygienic food.

In one Proust questionnaire published in Vanity Fair September 2006 issue, Howard Schultz was asked this :  “What is your most treasured possession?”  Mr Schultz’s  answer was : “ My memories.”  Brilliant answer and how true. But what if our memories are faulty? I believe we all have selective memory, some more selective than others.

Two weekends ago, I was  in the company of  some of the friends’ from the past. We gathered at a post wedding reception held by one of our school friends whose son recently got married. The wedding took place in San Francisco in May and the post wedding party was held a few months later in the groom’s hometown in Malaysia. It was an interesting full weekend catching up with a few school friends. I am not one who becomes nostalgic and carry the notion that school days were wonderful. I think that was such an awkward age. Nonetheless we behaved as if time had not passed despite whatever  we had gone through and  experienced during all those years as  grown ups.

When I returned to my present life, I read "The Sense of an Ending" by Julian Barnes, winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize. At the beginning of the story, the protagonist Tony Websters narrates, “……but what you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed.”  I can relate to the sentiment after a weekend away with some nostalgic moments spent with some school friends. It is definitely a novel for grown-ups, superb prose, full of wit and complex undertones.
"The Sense of an Ending" explores memory and the story was told through the apparently insignificant life of a sixty year old man, Tony Webster whose life was basically average by his own terms. The calm of his life became unsettled when he received a letter from a solicitor who informed him that he had been left a small legacy by a woman he barely knew and the legacy included a diary kept by his good friend from school, Adrian Finn some four decades ago. Once in history class, the school master asked the students for a definition of history.  Adrian Finn’s answer was “ History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation." Apparently the  quote was from a fictitious French author whom Finn had made up. Tony Webster’s answer then was “ History is the lies of the victors”. Later on in life, he realized that history is the memories of the survivors , most of whom are neither victorious nor defeated.

Tony Webster  narrates “ But time….how time first grounds us and then confounds us. We thought we were being mature when we were only being safe. We imagined we were being responsible but were only being cowardly”.  How true. So often we go through life playing safe by avoiding hurt,  loss and the unbeaten path  in the name of survival and self preservation. Webster had to confront the core of his character when he examined some letters he had written in his fits of spite. The book is exquisitely written and makes an insightful read. 
Another  insightful and brilliant novel I had recently read was  “ A visit from the Goon Squad” by Jennifer Egan. It is about passing of our youth, very cleverly written. The writer has employed a satirical approach to lives of the characters in the fiction. 

Not that I lament about the passing of youth and fragilities of life, I particularly enjoy reading novels which have been written on that premise. I am addicted to buying books as every book is a hopeful purchase. These days I find myself devouring the pages too quickly to accord the author justice. While I anticipate the joy and look forward to the day when I can take my time  to savour each and every phrase and passage lucidly put together by these writers, I suspect I may still not have enough time in the world to catch up with all the books I want to read. Meanwhile  juggling time between my work, chores, tennis , yoga,  social outings, chats, movies, books  and blogging keep my adrenalin pumping.