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Category: Culture

Free to Binge
Bingeing. It’s a thing now, especially during lockdown. Prolonged, end-to-end viewing of television programs for which numerous episodes are available — it certainly is a tribute to the technological wonders all around us that such an option is even available. And yet, this easy availability troubles me.

Contrary to reports you may have heard (from my life-mate) I am not anti-binge. Please understand that, though I am not a member of the Freedom Caucus, I am absolutely pro-freedom. People should be able to do whatever they want to as long as no one else is harmed. My concerns about bingeing, then, are strictly reserved for my own choices and patterns of behavior. Others should chart their own paths. And risk madness — or worse.

To be fair, such outcomes are rare. Or so it has been alleged by my life-mate. Anyway, my chief issue around bingeing is more about aesthetic well-being than physical. Watching parts of an artistic drama that was conceived to be experienced discretely is an approach fraught with dangers.

Not the least of these is the possibility of a colossal waste of time. Not in watching shows you really enjoy, but in watching shows you turn out not to enjoy. You know what I’m talking about: some story or character will suck you in at the beginning, and before you know it you’re 20 episodes into some cavalcade of dreck without any way to get any of that time back. Or worse, you ignore the clear early warnings in a multi-season show (like the multiple decapitations in Episode 1 of Game of Thrones), only to discover in Season 5 that you really don’t like torture and non-stop graphic violence after all. Those hours — to say nothing of the enormous emotional investment — are gone forever, and you have precious little to show for the experience.

There is also the distinct possibility that such investments might begin to compete with real-world demands for your time and attention. Your job, your family, your social life — activities that involves actual, flesh-and-blood people — can all become drab and empty when compared to your imaginary existence among dragons, time-travelers, and British royalty. And speaking of British serials, we can see the even more pronounced disorientation wrought by the the appearance of the same actors in every show — in different storylines, as both heroes and villains, across a kaleidiscope of settings, both real and imagined. No wonder our lives are in chaos.

Or so it seems to me. Wouldn’t it be better, for you and your loved ones (talking to you, life-mate), to simply enjoy individual installments of your chosen TV show one at a time? To savor each episode and fully explore all the hypothetical storyline permutations presented by that chapter? Rather than rushing through them in an orgy of consumption?

That is my argument, at least, when the matter is discussed in my home theater. Since we are in lockdown, of course, actual disagreements are forbidden, so we compromise. My life-mate doesn’t watch my shows and I don’t watch hers. Separate…and free.
Location, Location, Location
Like most people, we have a wireless phone in our house. It’s a genius invention if you ask me. Instead of being tied to one location — where we decided to put the phone jack — we can talk on the phone anywhere we want to, even outside. This may not mean much to you if you don’t own a landline, but for those of us still living in the twentieth century, it’s a wonder.

The upside of the old, tied-to-the-wall system was that you always knew where the phone was. Fortunately, wireless phone makers came up with another, perhaps even more wondrous invention: the locater.

You might be tempted to dismiss this capability as just another feature on yet another modern device, but think of it: a locater! It tells you where the phone is! By making it send a signal! Brilliant! I’m not ready to say the locater pushes fire out as the number one greatest invention of all time, but it certainly displaces the wheel as number two.

I understand that the locater might seem to be a rather simple technological feat, but remember that we are only at the earliest stage of this breakthrough. I challenge you to imagine where this potential explosion of human ingenuity might lead. We can certainly foresee similar devices that might help us find our keys, our remote, our glasses. Those should be relatively easy advances for this new technology, and are no doubt currently in development. But, for a moment, let us expand our minds beyond these mundane concerns and think big.

Wouldn’t it be great, for instance, if we could find, at last, the lost continent of Atlantis? The lost tribes of Israel? Or Jimmy Hoffa, for gosh sake! The possibilities are endless, really. We could find our lost youth, our lost innocence, or even (if we so desired) our lost virginity. And who wouldn’t want to know where, oh where, has my little dog gone? Nothing would be off the table — especially when you consider that there may never be another lost cause.

There is a lot of work to do before that happens, of course, but we’ll find someone to do it, I’m sure. Once we get the right technology.
Numb and Number
If you’re like me, you find it easy to make an emotional connection with a letter. They do mirror our words and thoughts, after all — almost as if they were a part of us. If one of them is going through a rough patch, we automatically feel their pain. They are almost living things — like beloved family pets.

Take the letter Q, for instance. You would have to be pretty cold inside not to feel some kind of compassion for this hapless glyph. For starters, it can hardly go anywhere without U tagging along. It’s not as if U needs the work; it’s a vowel, for gosh sake. But there it is, crowding into the picture almost every time Q gets a chance to shine. And on the rare occasion when Q does appear on its own, it is almost always as a pathetic attempt by our alphabet to mimic a sound from another, foreign, set of letters — like the Hebrew letter qoph. Or qajaq, a Scrabble word with no meaning at all. Sad.

It is also a bit of an afterthought as a letter, looking, as it does, like an O that has left its pants unzipped. It all seems so unfair. But at least Q is a letter. In its alphabet-universe there are only 26 such characters. Even Q can think of itself as something special is such elite company.

When it comes to integers, though, it is quite a different matter. There are an infinite number of numbers, so no one would blame you if you felt nothing at all for any one of them and whatever tough circumstances they might find themselves in. Having feelings for a number is less like caring about an old and beloved dog approaching its last days and more like sympathizing with your laptop when it crashes. It’s that hard to relate to a number.

There are, however, exceptions to this rule. Recently, I have been experiencing profound surges of empathy for 2020.

Think of 2020 before the year began. It held a position of representing almost unparalleled excellence as a measure of eyesight. 20/20 vision is not perfect, but it is the ideal level of visual acuity to which we all aspire. To many of us, 20/20 is an unattainable goal even with corrective lenses or surgery. How many numerals have a credit like that on their resumes?

Apart from that association, 2020 was also on its way to an achievement of numerical niftyness that would have been rare indeed among other dates on the calendar. It would have gone into the books along with 1010 and (someday) 3030. The coolness of such dates easily outstrips years like 1818 and 1919 or any other every-101-years occurrences.

All of that, of course, came before the actual transpiration of the year 2020. You don’t need me to tell you what it’s been like, but I will anyway: COVID, job loss, eviction, schools under threat…okay, I’m getting tired of it already. Except one last thing: corrupt and uncaring governance. Oh yeah, and now a giant, killer heat wave in the West, which has now been followed by the historically awful and destructive fires currently afflicting the entire Pacific Coast of America.

Whatever 2020 might have had going for it on January 1, it’s all gone now. In my opinion, it is in the running for the worst year ever, and maybe even the worst number ever. That is a long fall for any symbolic character. There is only one thing that could make it worse.

Please, don’t forget to vote.
Home
Okay, this sucks. The pandemic sucks. The inequality sucks. The rise of ugliness and stupidity sucks. Let’s skip over the sad details for the moment, and just admit that we are in a time of multiple crises. And let’s also admit there’s a lot that needs to be done, including in our own hearts, to make things right again.

In the face of all that hard truth, though, I can’t help hoping that some good will come from this trial. We are in a crisis, but aren’t crises supposed to be catalysts for change?

Well, there’s no harm in hoping, anyway. It’s a free country, and surely that includes the freedom to hope. For instance, I hope that all this time we are spending at home will re-awaken the natural centrality of home in our lives. Our families are there, and our gardens and dinner tables and bedrooms. Our lives begin and end there. It is our island of sanity in a crazy world.

The pandemic has forced us into our homes, and I am going to say that that might turn out to be a very good thing. We don’t need it as a place to meditate, or find our nourishment, or be with our loved ones, or recharge our spirits, or focus on creating beauty. There are plenty of other places to do all those things, but home is the only place that you can do all of them. Plus, you don’t have to get in your car and drive to get there.

That’s another thing. The pandemic has curtailed our ability to travel, and the result has been a steep drop in greenhouse emissions. My hope in this regard is that somehow, once the virus is behind us, we can bring our society back in a less toxic form. Perhaps those who are now working productively from home can simply continue to do so. I even dare to hope that the dawning realization that we are all in this together will facilitate an increased focus on the welfare of our planet as a whole. It is our home just as surely as our individual castles are…even more so, I would argue.

And, as long as we’re allowing ourselves to stretch hope to the limit, why not dare to imagine that we can take the cruelty and runaway greed, the irrationality and racial hatred, and cast them out of our home? Not for good, because we are all flawed humans, but as part of a broad enlightenment of our society?

I know. That is a lot to hope for. But if any change is to come out of the multiple crises we are enduring, I say why not make it something good and lasting? Is that too much to hope for? No. If ever there was a time for big hope, this is it.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon