Another project completed and sent off to the printer. Onto the next writing assignment, beginning research, filling notebooks, making sketchy plans for the outline, what goes in, what stays out. Tidying my big yellowwood desk — that lovely mellow patina of surface — and then heaping it again with a new collection of books and notebooks. Pens and pencils. The laptop, the android.
I don’t miss the corporate office, not ever. I do miss being with others to celebrate the end of a project, the hugs and laughter. Freelancing is lonely work sometimes. But all writing is essentially about sitting staring at words on a page or screen in solitude. Each and every day.
On not knowing. I sit reading political manifestos, philosophies, arguments and the uncertainty of reading the present moment except through the selective lens of the past. The troubling erosion of public and private, the questions of legality and legitimacy, the lack of consensus on who we are and what kind of society we have co-created…
Sherry Turkle in her new book Reclaiming Conversation on what we’ve lost with the new virtual communication, ubiquitous social media:
She presents a powerful case that a new communication revolution is degrading the quality of human relationships—with family and friends, as well as colleagues and romantic partners. The picture she paints is both familiar and heartbreaking: parents who are constantly distracted on the playground and at the dinner table; children who are frustrated that they can’t get their parents’ undivided attention; gatherings where friends who are present vie for attention with virtual friends; classrooms where professors gaze out at a sea of semi-engaged multitaskers; and a dating culture in which infinite choice undermines the ability to make emotional commitments.
There is always the presumption with western journalists that they understand societies that they are essentially tourists in; it’s an institutional arrogance which I’ve learned to undo in myself. If you don’t speak a language fluently, no, you don’t understand anything. Period. I thought I knew quite a lot about Southeast Asia before – I didn’t. Societies are not a compendium of causes, social problems, crimes, corruptions, “attitudes,” etc. etc. This is how the white middle class looks at the world, essentially in a missionary way. As a kind of reform project. Imagine if it was done to us by people who couldn’t speak a word of English! That would make a good satire.
The innocent age of tourism is past, that belief you travelled for hedonistic pleasure and generously tipped those who served and waited on you, that you could take photos of them as if they were exotic pieces of landscape, that you could go into their homes and marvel at their poor but simple lives, that your voyeurism did no harm, that you were absorbing something useful or interesting as you sat on the beach in Mexico, Cuba, Mauritius, Jamaica, Tunisia, that you ate their affordable labour-intensive food and enjoyed luxury they couldn’t afford and that somehow all of this was OK. That you could speak a little Spanish or Portuguese or phrases in Swahili or Thai and this showed your lazy well-meaning goodwill.
And suddenly, it is dangerous to travel, you may be seen as an ideological enemy, your friendliness and intrusiveness resented or despised, that you are part of the oppressive machinery exploiting people in the global south, that you have never been welcome, never understood your romantic destinations as they understand themselves, you would do better to stay in Fortress America, that panopticon of a threatened and isolated society. Or in a troubled and ideologically divided Britain or Europe, sitting out the rainy winters and heavy snow. Escape routes closed.
A world we scarcely recognise even as we miss the old familiar world passing away, that unconscious privilege and safety. From a review of the work of Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben:
For about our current state of emergency, and the need to reconceive the global situation in which we find ourselves, there is permitted no doubt. In Stasis, another recently published volume in the series, Agamben describes our present state as one of “global civil war.” Lest this remain suspended in mid-air, a precision is offered: “The form taken by civil war at this point in world history is terrorism.” And to be still more precise, he adds, “global terrorism is the form civil war assumes when life as such becomes what politics treats.”
So I sit and look out through my window and look again at the bright garden, unshadowed. The military helicopters overhead — why? — the malachite sunbirds flying back and forth, the world that will go on after us whatever we do or fail to do. A flash of emerald in the darkness of thought.