Another reason to be less demanding

“I weep because, each time he knelt beside my banks, I could see, in the depths of his eyes, my own beauty reflected.”

I came across the idea that our self-esteem is equal to our opinion of others.

Sounds esoteric, but I reflected on it and there may be something to it.

Assumption:

A mentally well person accepts that she is an ordinary human being and that most people who surround her are ordinary human beings.

Hence,

a) if she is highly critical of most ordinary human beings, on an average day she is critical of herself

b) if she is accepting of others’ faults,on an average day she accepts her own faults

Doesn’t this add up?

I sort of talked about this when I hypothesised that people criticise others for the things they hate about themselves. Reading over it, it seems naive and slightly needy, but I still think there was a grain of truth in it.

“Yet another reason to not be a demanding pig”, I gently remind myself.

Silver linings

I edit essays almost every day. One sparkled my eyes with its brilliance. Later I realised that the author plagiarised it from John Green’s Looking for Alaska. Oh well.

I guess I can’t be expected to have read every novel ever written. My silver lining lies in the revelation that I’m good at spotting great writing 😉

In my quest to produce notes for Macbeth, I watched Scarface. A favourite of mine. Macbeth and Scarface would make a fabulous comparative study.

This time I noticed how the camera work underlined the message.

When Elvira snorts cocaine, the camera moves back and zooms in at once, mimicking the mind-altering effects of the drug.

When Tony gets killed, the camera moves from his lifeless body to the steely assassin and onto the fountain encircled with the neon sign “the world is yours“. The assassin obviously becomes the new Tony and the world is now his. The camera bows down to the winner by showing him from below, then it slowly follows the assassin as he descends down the stairs and distances to show what’s ahead of him. Endless dead bodies. His path will inevitably bring him to the bottom of the stairs, to the midst of the carnage and the cycle will repeat.

It’s good to be reminded that the life goes on without me trying to control it

I took the day off yesterday. For the first time in I don’t know how long.

Being a bit of a rebel, I chose the day that bookings start for a course I run.

Contrary to my expectation, my email wasn’t full of people wondering where I was. After all, how dare I not get back to them within 30 minutes?

I did have about 110 unread emails, but nothing unmanageable.

It’s good to be reminded that the life goes on without me trying to control it.

When you put it like that, I can see the appeal of nihilistic thinking. But even if I am a lowly non-flaggelated bacterium living on the eye of a blue-eyed giant, I want to be good at being such a bacterium.

According to my family, interactions with me felt qualitatively different today, now that I was rested. A remark I didn’t specifically seek out.

I also slept much longer than I normally do, suggesting that I was able to break out of fight or flight. (Alternative explanation: Merlot).

The morning was a haze: I dreamt of being with my friends, who travel to places man hasn’t really spent much time in, occasionally interrupted by some more frontal part of my brain reminding me of items from my list, concerning appointments and credit card details.

I also realised just how little time I actually spend producing anything. Instead, I expend a huge amount of energy on being in that anticipatory stressed state. Like Rocky waiting to be punched in the stomach.

I guess there isn’t really a way around that one.

Murder on the Orient Express, 2017

For anyone who has seen the David Suchet version, it’s doomed to disappoint. 

I love Poirot. The ITV rendition with David Suchet is the classiest, coziest drama you will ever see. The only other TV series I enjoyed as much is Blackadder (and the Russian TV show What? Where? When?)

What about this latest film? 

Kenneth Branagh’s Poirot is straight out of Hollywood. He elegantly sabotages the villains with his cane, uses it to tear down locked doors, plays tricks with unloaded guns and insists that everyone straightens their ties all the time. It’s more of an ageing James Bond than Poirot. 

In terms of culture wars, Branagh’s Poirot used a the portrait of a long lost love for his ethical struggles rather than a religious relic. 

Michelle Pfifer as the victim’s grandmother was pretty awesome, to be fair. Just Dench didn’t really add anything, unfortunately.

For anyone who likes David Suchet’s performance, I don’t advise going to this. Not even to stare at Johnny Depp. 

“We never just hear music”

Music profoundly changes our emotions. Sound has the potential to turn our feelings inside out.

In September, I committed to bringing my mother to the theatre. Local theatres do a lot of film screenings, I found with disappointment. Among them, I spotted The Graduate. I don’t understand why, but I love the film.

The events and characters are grim. The atmosphere is anxious. The ending is certainly filled with angst. But that’s not the aftertaste it leaves.

I rooted out The Graduate in college. Third year of medicine, a year dedicated to learning ginormous amounts of information, weighed heavy on my mind.

It was the weekend. Alone, I had nothing to do other than study and the mood dwindled. Somehow The Graduate lifted me out of melancholy.

I reckon it is down to the soundtrack. Amazing.

In an essay filled to the brim with reference to science, a music cognition scientist (yes, that’s a thing), says:

We never just hear music. Our experience of it is saturated in cultural expectations, personal memory and the need to move.

The revelation reminded me of something a friend said. She shocked me with a simple truth: you start having sex long before you enter the bedroom.

So yeah, our perception runs away from reality at the first chance it gets. I am sitting here imagining: in a film about Macbeth, what soundtrack would I choose? And when you think about it like that, you see that music manipulates emotion like nothing else.

Happy Halloween everyone

I love eighties films. There is so much irreverence in them. At the same time, they seem so innocent compared to what’s filmed now. Maybe it’s just that I don’t fully grasp the context.

If you want a great laugh – and some Halloween costume ideas for next year, watch the wildly absurd, yet thoroughly entertaining Stone Cold*.

My personal Halloween favourite is The Nightmare Before Christmas. I think it is a masterpiece of storytelling: it is so incredibly well-timed.

Given that the house is full of Halloween-themed items, I have (re)invented a sport called Volleyballon. I highly recommend it.

I think the reason they have so many festivals around this time of year, in various cultures, is not only the seasonal availability of food, but also the fact that the evenings are getting longer. How are you spending yours?

Happy Halloween everyone.

*It was technically shot in the nineties, but it has the heart and soul of an eighties classic. If you find it as irresistible as I did, you have to also see Kung Fury (free to watch), a Kickstarter-funded parody for eighties films that captured a lot of their charm. What are your eighties favourites?

Kids: a moral dilemma

I am aware of the nihilistic tendencies of some of my readers and I think they would enjoy reading this essay entitled Kids? Just say no. A professor of philosophy, David Benatar argues the merits of anti-natalism.

My first objection is that this is fundamentally against nature – and there is no winning against her. Evolution. Selfish genes. It’s obvious and I don’t need to explain it. To be fair, the professor recognises this and establishes his argument as applying to a minority of people.

My second objection is that there is always a way out. I don’t necessarily mean the “happy kind”. One of this professor’s readers wrote to him about his very unhappy life and concluded that he was sentenced to suffering by his parents. I think the author of the letter miscalculated what is within his control and what isn’t. He is no longer the helpless child in his mother’s arms. He has choices. While on a human level, my heart goes out to him, on an intellectual level I feel that blaming your parents on your death bed is denying your own sovereignty.

A man I know well, one of the kindest people I ever met, once expressed his views on sperm donation. He was strongly against it and one of his points was “is this world really that wonderful”, which shocked me at the time. Clearly, this point of view is much more common than I originally thought. I am just hearing Freddie Mercury’s whaling: “Mama, ooh, I don’t want to die I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all”.

My third objection is against the author’s assertion that “life is simply much worse than most people think”. This is just a random, unfalsifiable, unsupported thought. Very relatable of course, as we all have our darker moments, but ultimately how is this a reason? The professor argues that optimism bias is a reason, but there are so many counter reasons! Most cognitive distortions drive our estimations of life down, not up. And if his assertion is true, isn’t the answer to be more in touch with reality, especially in terms of what we tell our kids about the world, than to annihilate your genes from the planet?

The author then goes on to say that “life is a state of continual striving”. I vaguely agree, but our interpretations are entirely different. The author seems to believe that anything other than pure bliss is unpleasant. For sure, if you define it this way. His whole essay seems to be based on disillusionment, from a pretty self-centred point of view.

My last objection is as follows. The author argues that we, humans, cause a lot of damage, “every human (who is not a vegetarian or vegan) is, on average, responsible for the death of 27 animals per year.” Is that his definition of damage? Isn’t it a little arrogant to talk this way about humans when it wouldn’t occur for us to say this about, say, lions?

Of course, we all pick our battles and I don’t at all judge people who don’t want kids. The benefit of the professor’s work would have been obvious 200 years ago as it would have clicked some people out of the mindless default mode that one must have kids, no other options, and highlight the wider responsibilities of parenthood. In today’s world, it’s just another ode to nihilism.

On a personal level, I see so many of my friends who have kids and do you know how I feel? I feel that these people jumped off a cliff and survived. The responsibility of it has been painted as being so humongous to educated people that reading Prof Benatar’s essay is just unhelpful to someone like me. I already know.

P. S. I have also been pointed to this blog. It would still your blood.