Thursday, August 8, 2013

it's funny you should mention your health

A couple days ago, I discovered this self-written obituary online. The woman in question, Jane Catherine Lotter, was an author and, dying from cancer, she took the time to put together a measure of her own life. Now, the whole thing was fairly interesting, a bit sad (obviously), but a section that stood out in particular:

I believe we are each of us connected to every person and everything on this Earth, that we are in fact one divine organism having an infinite spiritual existence. Of course, we may not always comprehend that. And really, that's a discussion for another time. So let's cut to the chase:

I was given the gift of life, and now I have to give it back. This is hard. But I was a lucky woman, who led a lucky existence, and for this I am grateful.

I don’t think that first bit is literally true, but I think that operating in our daily lives as if it were makes us better people. The general consensus about Groundhog Day is that this is exactly the kind of thing Phil learns; we are each of us connected to every person… maybe not every person on the Earth, at least not directly. But, given a locality, don’t we all wish we knew our neighbors, that we had friends and/or family who lived nearby? Life can be very lonely in the modern world. I lamented Phil’s lack of access to the internet in entry #2, but now I suppose it’s time to lament the presence of the internet. See, maybe Phil was better off stuck in that “tiny village in western Pennsylvania.” There, real connections were possible.

And, yes, I just implied that real connections are only possible in person.

Psychotherapist blogger, Aaron Balick counters the obvious use of stuff like Facebook to bring us together with the flip side: “It opens up a world in which we can peer into others’ lives and in many cases, make us feel even further away. It can induce envy by requiring that we compare our lives to other lives that may seem more exciting. It can induce destructive envy and isolation.” I don’t know how conscious that sort of thing may be, but I wonder, do we like things because we don’t have the option to join in? More importantly—and stepping back from the seriousness—imagine Phil Connors with access to Facebook when his day is repeating. How many days do think he’d spend on Facebook if the same posts are coming up every day, the same invitations to play Words with Friends or Candy Crush, the same cat videos and politicized news stories… I can’t imagine he’d even be logging in by the third day. But—and I’m playing devil’s advocate here because I log into Facebook every day—and this blog even has its own Facebook page—isn’t that what so much of Facebook or Twitter is anyway? Same shit, different day.

When Ralph tells Phil, “that about sums it up for me,” isn’t he describing all of our lives? Maybe some crazy celebrities need not apply, or can easily think they don’t apply, but aren’t all of our lives just repetition day in and day out? Is the uniqueness of Phil Connors’ story simply that he recognizes said fact and decides to live life to the fullest? I don’t know about you, but I take comfort in that. It’s good knowing he’s out there, Phil Connors, taking her easy for all us sinners (bonus points if you get that reference).

Jane Catherine Lotter, in the face of cancer, “decided to be joyful about having had a full life, rather than sad about having to die.” I may be writing this entry to post it online (and intend to keep doing so every day for a good while) and I may sign in to Twitter and Facebook and Tumblr and what have you regularly, but you know what’s so often better and more fulfilling? Real-world interactions. I would rather Ned Ryerson run up to me out in the street then send me a friend request on Facebook.

Aaron Balick argues that “Technology is tempting and seductive.” He says:

We utilise it like some kind of virtual appendage, and when it starts to feel like an appendage, say, an extension of the arm, we don’t really register that it is not what it seems to be. That is, it is not an extension: it is the public world. Sherry Turkle (2011) uses the sociologist David Reisman’s concept of “the other directed self” noting that Facebook and other social networks take the other directed self to a higher power, she terms it “hyper other directedness” (176-7). This means that we develop a persona with the unconscious intention that it be pleasing to others.

There’s the rub, if it’s true. Our online personas are more about other people than ourselves. So, the question we have to ask ourselves: do we want to be our selves or the person we think everyone else wants us to be?

I’m sure a good part of our real-world interactions involves the perceptions others have of us, as well. But, not as much as online, where we’re constantly creating and recreating ourselves like Grant Morrison’s take on The Joker in Arkham Asylum, only a little less homicidally.

I imagine, in the bowling alley scene, we see Phil and Ralph and Gus, and they’re hinting at everything that’s important in the film and in life, and the camera pans to the side and there’s The Stranger from The Big Lebowski. See, if we had a philosophical narrator here in Groundhog Day or in our daily lives, maybe things would be easier. Instead, we keep on moving forward through the chaos, hoping for some sense. And, occasionally, we find it, we find friends or lovers, and we think we’ve got it all figured out, even if just for one moment at a time. Otherwise, life would be far scarier.

Let’s just ignore that option and pretend we know what’s going on.

I guess that's the way the whole durned human comedy keeps perpetuatin' itself, down through the generations, westward the wagons, across the sands a time until - aw, look at me, I'm ramblin' again. Wal, uh hope you folks enjoyed yourselves.

Today’s reason to repeat a day forever: to not care about Facebook or Twitter anymore, to have more meaningful interactions more often in person, to live life fully, “to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."

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