Saturday, June 9, 2018

Parallel realities

One weekday afternoon, I was famished and had to step out to grab a bite. While waiting for tomato soup, I wanted to return a call to an acquaintance who had texted and ask if she could contact me about some legal advice. Oops I left my phone in the office. I had tomato soup, too much dried herbs otherwise nice, a spiced coconut cake and an espresso and I read a few pages of Transit by Rachel Cusk. I got through forty minutes without checking my phone. Bliss.  

Technology can be a force for good or bad or both good and bad at the same time. So often I get lost in surfing from one piece of information to another and I lose track of what I have initially set out to find. I cannot now recall how I used to do legal research, looking up case laws  pre-internet days. These  days research is made much easier online.

There are days when there are urgent tasks and work to do, I get anxiety attacks partly because of my work and mainly because I have less  or zero time to devour any of the  fictions and non-fictions that I have set out  to read plus too many good articles and writings to consume on line whether on my MacBook or kindle. Ravenous I am. Internet has given the benefit where I can do some of my work anywhere and at times when it is time to eat I bring my book with a view to catch up with a page or two from where I left off, I get distracted and find myself responding to a client’s email or text  on my iPhone. I need to give myself the space to decompress, away from network so I could do some quiet reading.  

In this internet age, social etiquette has taken on a new landscape. It seems to be acceptable when one is seen  responding to texts in the office or during lunch with others. The netizens appear to be constantly engaged with their devices whether at work or on the road. Since we are required to do things electronically and also off-line, multitasking is necessary if  we want to maximize our time attending to  tasks  in the physical world as well as on line. The young generations are naturally good at  keeping up with technology while the baby boomers and the older generations adapt to the changes to keep up with the modern life. In this age of connectivity, we cannot live without the internet. Period.
In Sympathy written by Olivia Sudjic, the protagonist, Alice Hare was adopted. She knows little of her birth parents and all she knows is that her father is in prison and her mother is dead. Her English adoptive parents offer little stability when her adoptive father disappears. Both her and her adoptive mother do not have any real sense of what is real and Alice finds it easier to permeate the personal boundaries in the virtual world rather than getting close with people around her. Her adoptive grandmother has made contact with her through letters writing during her final year at the university. After graduating, as  she is in limbo and feeling  a void and uncertain about what she wants to do, she visits Silvia, her cancer-stricken grandmother in New York. Through Instagramming, she stumbles on Mizuko Himura and  becomes obsessed with the connections and parallels she sees in her personal history and that of Mizuko, an Instagrammer, a Japanese heiress, a freelance writer who teaches creative writing at Columbia University. She manages to get acquainted with Mizuko  through some coincidences which are made possible in this modern internet days. She engineers a real-life friendship by creating a self that Mizuko will be drawn to based on what Mizuko has curated on line.
As the story progresses, Alice is  plunging into an online bottomless hole of strange connections  just like how a seven-year-old  Alice in Wonderland follows a hare down a rabbit hole when suddenly she finds herself  falling  a long way down and in a curious hall with many locked doors of all sizes. The following passage resonates with me except that I will have to substitute ‘my philosophy degree’ with ‘my law degree’ and while my biological parents raise me, I only know of my dad’s adoptive family and not his natural parents.

      Have you ever truly, keenly felt like you don’t know who you are? Do you ever do something and think, Who is at the Controls? Like some mad pilot has locked you out of the cockpit? I definitely do. I feel a kind of vertigo that makes me shake afterwards. I guess we all feel it when making a difficult- seeming choice, and sometimes you seriously don’t know what you want because you don’t know who you’re supposed to be, or who you want to be. Physics, my first and second families, my philosophy degree, had all failed to help me answer that question. The former has led me to wonder whether I am one of an infinite number of Alices in multiple universes. A quantum fuck-up, which is some who fucks up in every one of those universes but in different ways. My first family took no care at my making, and my second family got me, essentially by mistake, out of a million possible babies going spare.” 
Life is often stranger than fiction. In her debut novel, Olivia Sudjic has made reference to the two plane incidents that involve Malaysia Airline flight. When I stumbled upon Sympathy the remarkable debut by its author, I had to get it. Somehow the book has taken me longer than the time normally taken for me to read  as it is written in a non-linear way and as it is , I am a person who does things in a non-linear way, and I have the habit of reading a few books simultaneously, thus it has taken me a while to get engaged with the story. Here is a reference to one of the plane incidents.

     When Dwight came to our bedroom after supper, he was distracted. He had become even more obsessed with the missing plane after the second one, another Malaysia Airline flight, was shot down over eastern Ukraine.

   “ The numbers are spooking me,” he said as he got into bed.
   I tried to sound normal. “Because it’s the second time, you mean ?”
   “No- well, yes, that too. Listen, though : Flight 17 , Boeing 777, first flew July 17, 1997, exactly, like, exactly seventeen years to the day before it crashed, July 17.”
    “ It’s weird,” I said 

Imagine a life without Wikipedia. Here is another passage from Sympathy.

I realized I did not know precisely what a seizure was. Stop for a moment to think of a life without Wikipedia. Sweet source of eternal comfort. Ministering angel of information . Think of your life without the option to Internet search.
Olivia Sudjic writes:
  ‘This is just happening so naturally, I told myself. I just have to keep pressing on each link to get to the next;I don’t have to know where it’s going.’

Sympathy  is hailed as the first great literary Instagram 
Indeed it is brilliant. Splendid.

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