Stories for days

I read a book recently. The Lonely City. I don’t think any book I have read this year captures my mood for the year better than this book. The book talks about loneliness – no shocker there. But it talks about that specific, anonymous, discoloured loneliness you can only get in cities, made even more incongruous because you are constantly surrounded.

The author, Olivia Laing, talks about some of the best contemporary art and how so much of it was born from persons who were intensely, and always, lonely. Edward Hopper for example. I hadn’t seen his paintings before 2020. And then I saw a post online talking about how the entire year in lockdown has felt like being in a Hopper painting. If you look at his paintings, it usually shows a single subject sitting in a cold, isolated, dispassionate city scape. He used a lot of greens and blues in his paintings. Laing calls this the ‘Hopper Green’ in her novel. It reminds me of that depressing green you’ll often find in abandoned diners or public washrooms. If I had to put a feeling to the colour, I would say it reminds me of when you’re walking around in the rain but the water has already seeped into your shoes, so you just walk around in silent, wet, misery.

There are a bunch of other artists she talks about (including one who worked as a janitor and made art his whole life, never told anyone about it, and died alone in a room, where they discovered all his art only because his neighbours complained about the stink coming from his home), but towards the end she talks about a man named Josh Harris. The man made a bunch of money in the dot com boom. But he became disgruntled with what was happening around him quite quickly. He predicted that the internet would take on a much less benign form in a couple of years, it’ll become a space where every single person will compete for visibility for the most mundane things, and showcase their lives to the fullest, dystopian degree just because they can. And well, he wasn’t wrong. To prove that he was right about the ways in which human nature will interact with constant access and visibility, he held a social experiment (there is a movie on this too). He invited strangers (anyone and everyone was welcome, it was on a first come first serve basis) to live in a house for a period of time. All the amenities they could want would be provided to them. They would be denied only two things – privacy, and the option of exiting the house before the experiment was over. Every single part of the house was covered with cameras that streamed the happenings of the house to the outside world constantly.

The result? People started behaving in bizarre ways. They started acting out for attention. They became hostile towards their housemates for no reason. And almost all of them became depressed beyond measure. They were simultaneously fighting to be the most visible in the house, while feeling increasingly disconnected with reality the more air time they got. The experiment had to be shut down (for obvious reasons). Harris wasn’t happy though. He wanted to take this live streaming, this shit show of total visibility to its logical conclusion. So, he set up cameras in his own house. The idea was to record himself and his partner for 30 days (I think, could have been longer) no matter what. Every bit of their lives (and I mean every single bit – including washroom breaks) was made available to a voyeuristic public. This time though, the people watching could also give live feedback. And they did. Harris and his partner started behaving in the same way the participants of the first experiment had – they became more aggressive, less sensitive, more radical, and more depressed. They started fighting more, because as it turns out, that was what got people going. And as they fought, they noticed that the public opinion was usually with Harris’ partner and not him. When the experiment ended, the couple broke up, and Harris moved to an unknown location – became a recluse for the next couple of years.

Now, as shocking as this was at the time, it is much more uncomfortable to read now. Not only did the man predict (with uncanny precision) how the internet would change all of us, but the effects most of us feel (at least I know I do) are the same. I can’t stop putting stuff out there. And most of the times it doesn’t even make me happy. I want to post even though I feel deep revulsion for my online persona as soon as I am done posting, but I still can’t stop doing it. The worst of it is the Instagram stories. I don’t know what it is about them. Maybe because they are temporary, I don’t feel like I need to put in effort and can post whatever I want. But it isn’t that effortless either. I always think about it. I keep going back to the app, and whenever I do, the first thing I check is my story. How many people viewed it? How many people reacted? What does the story look like from someone else’s account? I’m not even as bothered about comparing myself to others on social media as I am to comparing myself to what I put up online. Anyway, I could keep going on about this. Go check out the book if you have time, I promise it is worth it.

Manifestation and Vision Boards

Photo by Mikechie Esparagoza on Pexels.com

I’ve been very down and out of it recently. I don’t feel like doing anything. At the same time, I feel guilty for wasting my days away. Most days, I don’t even have the energy to get out of bed. In the last two days, I have binged on 2 entire K-drama series and countless videos on YouTube. I read somewhere that the only consistent hobby our generation has is media consumption. At times like this, it feels like the truth. I try and tell myself that I need the rest, and this is my body’s way of slowing down. But rest from what? I don’t have a job, all my time is my own. I can’t figure it out, and that only makes me feel worse.

The dip in my energy levels is accompanied by a desire to distance myself from everyone around me. Except for the people who live in my house, I haven’t really made an effort to talk to anyone else. My phone barely pings nowadays, and honestly, as I am writing this, I remember that I haven’t seen it since yesterday. This isn’t normal, but it happens sometimes. I used to love talking to people. But now, I just don’t feel like putting in a lot of effort. And communication is a two-way street isn’t it? I don’t mind being the friend who initiates conversation usually, but I’m waiting to see what happens this time around. Anyway, who needs two-sided conversations when you can listen to YouTubers talk to you all day long right?

After going down endless rabbit holes on YouTube, I landed on something that sparked my interest. I mean, it at least made me change my position on my bed. It may not sound like a lot, but it is. I came across an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling. In it, Oprah declares to the interviewer that she is an “extremely powerful manifestor’. What does that mean? Apparently, Oprah doesn’t need ‘vision boards’ anymore to manifest her best / ideal life. She can do without. Or so she claims. But seeing as how she is Oprah, I’m willing to believe in her skills of manifestation. She says that the trick to manifesting whatever you want is to meet the ‘frequency / vibrations’ of your desires exactly as they are. You cannot be vibrating at a different frequency – either lower or higher. She never explained what she meant by this though. But everyone in the room agreed on this, and the clip ended. But I got curious. And so it began.

If you didn’t know, manifestation is a big thing right now. Everyone is talking about it. All the kids, all the celebrities and even all the spiritual gurus. There are debates on how best to manifest the life you want. Is it the law of attraction or the law of assumption that works better? Hmm.

I think the general idea is to have a list of things you want to achieve in life, or experience in life and then imagine with conviction that it will come true. If you look it up there are a lot of people telling you about ‘the best method’ or the ‘most powerful method’ of manifestation. And if you didn’t know, they get pretty into it with the details. I have in fact even come across someone telling me to: (1) write down exactly what I want (get as specific as I can with the details); (2) tear out the paper and put it under my pillow and (3) repeat the affirmation “I will receive everything I have asked for and more. I am loved. Abundance flows through me freely.” Good intentions yes, but oddly specific I thought. I’m not a believer in all these specifics, but I do like the idea of manifesting a life that I want, and not just passively receiving anything that comes my way. And before any of you scoff at it, keep in mind that it isn’t just the kids on YouTube or self-help gurus that talk about manifestation. There are actual quantum physicists who support this. I’ve started listening to talks by Dr. Joe Dispenza (and even bought a book of his titled ‘Becoming Supernatural’). He talks about this a lot. The idea that we can ‘reprogram our subconscious’ and ‘create the reality’ we want – given that multiverses and alternate realities exist around us all the time anyway.

Central to the idea of manifestation (at least, according to the YouTube gurus, I don’t know if scientists support this) is making a vision board for yourself. If you don’t know how to make one, don’t worry. There are, as with everything else, a lot of people online talking about how you can make both a virtual and a physical vision board. It isn’t that difficult. I think the idea is to pick a bunch of things you want to make a part of your future. For example, I love houses built in the style of tuscan villas. I would ideally, love to own a house with a garden someday. So, I picked a couple of these images and stuck them onto my board. I love the idea of travelling to Japan someday, so on it goes. You get the idea.

I made a virtual vision board and set it as the desktop image of my laptop. Since this is the thing I stare into most of the times, I figured it wouldn’t harm me to look at what I am (or what I should be) working towards once in a while. For now, the thing I’m manifesting the hardest is an end to this depressive episode, and the willingness to get out of bed.

On lethargy and apathy

Does anyone else feel like they don’t want to do anything? That they don’t want to put effort into anything or go anywhere? I get this feeling a lot. It could be because I am at a crossroads in life. I took a voluntary break from employment to try and figure out what I want to do with my life. I didn’t want to live my life on auto pilot, following the same routine into old age. I read a bunch of articles on how I should take charge of my life, and then went ahead and quit my job. But ever since I have quit, I don’t know what I want to do next. No wait, that isn’t an accurate representation of my mindset right now. I don’t feel like committing to anything. The dichotomy is exhausting. On the one hand, I am convinced that if I try my hand at anything, and put my back into it, I will achieve it. Will and determination will get me wherever I want to go. On the other hand, I am too scared to pick a side and commit to it. Paralyzed by fear into inaction.

There are a ton of projects I have been meaning to start for some time now, but I just can’t seem to get out of this rut of inactivity. I read a lot about other people online living through similar experiences. In some ways, this gives credence to what I am feeling. In other ways, it makes me feel worse. There must be some way of breaking out of this vicious cycle, surely. And if so many of us are going through it, there must be something to it.

For the last four months or so, I have fantasized about starting my own YouTube channel. Not because I think I am especially talented or because I have something original to say. Though arguably, since there is only one of me, everything I say should be original. Jokes aside though, I’ve spent considerable energy thinking about how I will start a channel and what I will talk about. At first, I thought maybe I should have a reaction / commentary channel. I watch a lot of shows and read a lot of books. I am always online. Surely, I can just expend some effort and talk about the things I consume. Then I thought of making it a bit more structured. What if, instead of reacting to the same old videos (you know the ones I mean, the Big Ed getting engaged to Rose variety), I could probably take some time and make the videos more educational. Talk about the things I really care about, and not just things I find amusing or revolting. So, maybe a channel to talk about sustainable fashion, or the fact that we are depleting our oceans, or maybe even human trafficking. I have a legal background and solid research skills. If I learnt how to edit videos properly, this could be a real thing. The latest idea I have had for my channel is just to make it into an informal vlogging / talking into the camera about whatever I want kind of channel. Now, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice that whenever I come up with an idea on how to pass my time, or on how to be more productive, I also come up with a host of excuses on how and why I can’t do that thing right now. Or why it might be better to delay it. So, in the end, I’m left with a lot of untested ideas, a host of excuses, and tangible frustration at not having moved from square 1 at all.

That is on lethargy. Accompanying my greatest nemesis is her younger sister apathy. So, what if I don’t commit to anything? What if I don’t figure out any of the things I had to figure out on my break from employment. What is the worst thing that could happen? I go back to a job I don’t enjoy and live out a life I don’t actively participate in? I recognise that this isn’t the healthiest mindset to have. I know that logically. That, however, does not mean this isn’t how I think from time to time. It is like I am always oscillating between caring too much but being afraid to act on anything I want, and not caring at all and then not having the pressure to either want anything or act on it.

I feel a little bit like an out of sorts character from a depressing Murakami book. Like the librarian who doesn’t do much but sit behind a desk and stay silent. You don’t really know what she thinks of you just see the inaction. Because that is exactly what both lethargy and apathy will get you, even if they don’t come together to the ball.